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The Scarlet Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter Chapter 17 Summary
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The Pastor and His Parishioner Hester and Dimmesdale's encounter in the woods seems so out-of-this-world to both of them that they have to ask one another whether they're each still alive. Dimmesdale at last touches Hester's hand, which reassures both of them. They make small talk until Dimmesdale asks Hester if she has found peace. She doesn't answer but looks at the scarlet letter, then asks him if he has found peace. Nope. In fact, he's miserable. Well, does he at least find comfort in the good that he does as a minister? Nope. He feels only misery. In fact, he's afraid that any good he does is an illusion, since there's so much evil in his heart. Satan's probably getting a pretty good chuckle out of that. He's wrong, Hester says: it's clear from his words that he's repented. But penance and penitence aren't any good; he's a hypocrite. He's just glad that he can look in the eye of somebody who can see him for who he is. It would be even better if he could have friend, or even an enemy, who recognizes what he has become. But he does have a friend—Hester. And he also has an enemy, who lives with him under his own roof. As Dimmesdale stands there essentially with his mouth hanging open, Hester realizes that she's really messed things up by keeping Chillingworth's secret. Guilt isn't going to cure Dimmesdale; it's going to corrupt him. It's time for the big reveal: Hester confesses, Dimmesdale vows he'll never forgive her; she says that he will, and then they hug it out. (Seriously.) Anyway, Dimmesdale finally says Chillingworth's heart is way blacker than theirs because he violated the sanctity of the human heart in cold blood. At least he and Hester never did that. So, is Chillingworth going to reveal their secret now? Hester doesn't think so. She thinks he'll seek his revenge in another way. In any case, they both manage to agree that the two men can't keep living together. Dimmesdale asks Hester to tell him what he should do. How about leave the settlement? He can be free if he leaves and goes into the wilderness. Um, anyone else think that sounds like a bad idea? Luckily, she has another suggestion: head back to Europe, where no one's ever even heard of Chillingworth. Dimmesdale says he can't run away. He will do what he can as a minister in this village, despite his fallen nature. Hester continues to urge him to go, to "exchange this false life" for a "true one." No, he says. He's too tired to leave, and he doesn't want to go alone into the world. Wait, who said anything about alone?
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