Chapter 17 – The Pastor and his Parishioner
At last, Hester meets with Dimmesdale alone.
He is somewhat surprised to see her here in the woods, and at first he thinks she is a ghost. In fact they are both ghosts of their former selves, and the suppression of their love for each other has had a heavy toll on them. Seeing his obvious misery, Hester tries to comfort him by pointing out that his congregation reveres him. He responds by saying that this makes him feel worse and emphasizes his hypocrisy. He has tried to reveal his hidden guilt surreptitiously to his congregation, but this only makes them honor him more.
Hester now realizes the extent of the torture suffered by Dimmesdale at the
hands of her husband and so she reveals the secret she has kept over the years.
Dimmesdale is angry at first, but he soon calms down and Hester realizes that she still loves him, and begs his forgiveness for her silence. “With sudden and desperate tenderness she threw her arms around him, and pressed his head against her bosom; little caring though his cheek rested on the scarlet letter.”
Dimmesdale regards Chillingworth as the worse type of sinner, in that he has
“violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of the human heart.”
For a moment, the pair share peace and harmony and they are reluctant to
leave the forest and return to the stifling Puritan community.
She suggests that they leave the district and perhaps return to Europe where
they can be free of “these iron men and their opinions”.
Dimmesdale feels he has not the strength or will, but Hester encourages him,
claiming he can lead a powerful life of good elsewhere.
We see a great leap forward in the plot in this Chapter.
Hester and Dimmesdale’s love for each other is rekindled, and the reader is given a hint that there could be a happy ending to this grim story.
Just as Hester has been unable to confide to anyone regarding her feelings,
so Dimmesdale has kept bottled up his guilt over these seven years.
While Hester sees a future away from Salem, deep down Dimmesdale knows he
cannot escape the hidden guilt that he carries, without making a full confession.
Hester shows courage by revealing that she still loves Dimmesdale, knowing
that in doing so, she is again violating God’s law. She hopes to encourage Dimmesdale to escape from the Puritans, who are brainwashed and cannot see life beyond their Puritanical world. She feels that
they have paid for their sins, and now they can lead a full and Christian life elsewhere.