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Dimmesdale is the other protagonist of the novel. He is a young Puritan pastor with handsome features and an attractive voice. Because of his pious spirit and inspired sermons, his congregation dearly loves him. The more the people honor him, the more his guilt grows.
Dimmesdale's first speech in the novel is ironic, for he is pleading with Hester to reveal his name 'if' she thinks it might lessen her misery or help him. The conditional appeal, though lost upon the spectators, carries its meaning to the discerning reader and to Hester. It also suggests Dimmesdale's fear of discovery and his indecisiveness about openly revealing his guiltiness.
The fear of public exposure and its consequences prevents Dimmesdale from openly confessing his sin although he mildly attempts to do so several times. When he does gather strength to hint that he is a sinner, he does it so obliquely that his confession is considered to be a sign of his humility. As a result, his congregation loves and praises him more. Thus, Dimmesdale leads a hypocritical life. His duality, in retaining his pious image in public and leading a guilt-ridden life of penance in private, mars his health and causes his physical deterioration. Because of his own weakness and lack of courage, he fails to confess and suffers constantly.
The gradual deterioration of Dimmesdale's health is aggravated by Chillingworth, who seeks his revenge for his part in the adultery. Dimmesdale plays right into Chillingworth's hands, trusting the physician with his medical care. He does not realize that Chillingworth is Hester's husband and his worst enemy, unworthy of trust. Instead of helping Dimmesdale to overcome his health problems, Chillingworth aggravates them through torment. The result is that Dimmesdale continually places his hand over his heart, covering the scarlet letter that is permanently etched there.
Dimmesdale's skepticism and his lack of faith in himself are responsible for his tragic end. His guilt gnaws at his heart, sapping the vital force of life, rendering him a moving and visible phantom with no sense of definite purpose in life. He wants to confess, but knowing the consequences, is not brave enough to do it. His failure to find peace and happiness is caused by his refusal to seek the forgiveness of God or of his congregation.
Though Dimmesdale's weaknesses and faults are revealed, Hawthorne still paints a sympathetic picture of him. He makes Dimmesdale very human in his suffering; he also becomes pathetic in the hands of Chillingworth. As a result, the reader is made to feel sorry for him in spite of his sin and cowardice.