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CHAPTER 17: The Pastor And His Parishioner
After several tries, Hester finally manages to meet Dimmesdale, who is weak and despondent. At first sight, both doubt the existence of the other; then, reassured by a touch of their cold hands, they converse about their past love and its consequence. Dimmesdale admits his misery and despair, telling Hester that while she openly wears the scarlet letter, "mine burns in secret."
Hester reveals to Dimmesdale that Chillingworth is her husband and seeks his forgiveness for having kept it a secret. Dimmesdale is horrified to learn the truth and feels that he has been exposed before the one who could never sympathize with him. He, at first, holds Hester responsible for his wretchedness, but later forgives her. He then declares that Chillingworth is more sinful than either of them.
Unable to decide his future course of action, Dimmesdale seeks Hester's advice. She suggests that he leave Boston, change his name, and settle down in some other country where he could preach, write, and be in the company of learned men. Dimmesdale says that he is too weak to escape by himself and must live, suffer, and die in Boston. Hester assures him that he will never be alone.
For the first time, Hawthorne brings the two lovers alone together for a period of time, and their feelings for one another are revealed. They express pity for each other for the suffering and despair each has endured. They acknowledge that their lives have been listless and void of warmth, as symbolized by their cold hands. In spite of their sufferings, Dimmesdale and Hester both have a tenderness for one another. Hester even promises Dimmesdale that he will never be alone; she is there for him. She understands that he is weak and needs her strength, which she willingly offers him.
The revelation of Chillingworth's true identity aggravates Dimmesdale's
agony further. He is horror-stricken that his sin has been exposed to
his worst enemy, who has greatly exploited his weakness. At first he blames
Hester, but quickly forgives her and places the blame where it belongs--on
the evil Chillingworth.