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Hester Prynne was now fully sensible of the deep injury for which she was responsible to this unhappy man, in permitting him to lie for so many years, or, indeed, for a single moment, at the mercy of one, whose purposes could not be other than malevolent. (17.23)
Oh, Hester. First, she has an extramarital affair with the town pastor, and then she makes it worse by letting her husband persecute him. Can the girl do anything right?
"We are not, Hester, the worst sinners in the world. There is one worse than even the polluted priest! That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!" (17.31)
Check out the way that Dimmesdale talks about Chillingworth "violating" the "sanctity of a human heart." To us, that sounds a lot like a type of rape: Chillingworth has psychologically raped Dimmesdale. Which, yeah, that sounds pretty sinful.
"The judgment of God is on me," answered the conscience-stricken priest. "It is too mighty for me to struggle with!"
"Heaven would show mercy," rejoined Hester, "hadst thou but the strength to take advantage of it." (17.43-44)
Let's say you've messed up. Really messed up—like, can't-even-talk-about-it messed up. Being forgiven can actually be harder than being punished, because you feel like you deserve something really bad. (Don't believe that it can mess with your head? Just ask this guy.)