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"Thou shalt forgive me!" cried Hester, flinging herself on the fallen leaves beside him [Dimmesdale]. "Let God punish! Thou shalt forgive!" (17.18)
As if you needed any more proof of how awesome Hester is (check out her "Character Analysis" to see what we're talking about), witness this: she doesn't ask for forgiveness. She demands it. (You go, girl!) But more seriously, what she seems to be saying is, "don't you dare become like all of those cruel townspeople! God is the only person who can punish me. We humans are meant to forgive one another." Philosopher Hester strikes again and argues that Dimmesdale has to forgive her—it's what humans do.
"I do forgive you, Hester," replied the minister, at length, with a deep utterance out of an abyss of sadness, but no anger. "I freely forgive you now. May God forgive us both!" (17.21)
Well, we're glad for Hester, but we're still not sure why she needs Dimmesdale to forgive her. (Okay, okay, beside the whole Chillingworth thing.) From our perspective, Dimmesdale is the one who really needs mercy.
"No, Hester, no!" replied the clergyman. "There is no substance in it! It is cold and dead, and can do nothing for me! Of penance I have had enough! Of penitence there has been none!" (17.18)
Right, because you can't be penitent if your entire community thinks you can do no wrong. Problem #193 with hypocrisy: you can't even expiate your sin.