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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.
"God knows; and He is merciful! He hath proved his mercy, most of all, in my afflictions. By giving me this burning torture to bear upon my breast! By sending yonder dark and terrible old man, to keep the torture always at red-heat! By bringing me hither, to die this death of triumphant ignominy before the people! Had either of these agonies been wanting, I had been lost for ever! Praised be his name! His will be done! Farewell!" (23.35)
If it weren't disrespectful, we might say that Dimmesdale and God sound like they have a pretty messed-up, abusive relationship: God sends "burning torture" and "triumphant ignominy," but Dimmesdale thinks he totally deserves it.