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She had wandered, without rule or guidance, in a moral wilderness; as vast, as intricate and shadowy, as the untamed forest, amid the gloom of which they were now holding a colloquy that was to decide their fate. (18.2)
Living with her guilt for seven years has taught Hester a thing or two about life—like, if your community just wants to blame you, maybe they don't have all the answers. Coincidentally, at this moment we see Hester in the middle of a literal forest as well as a metaphorical one.
And be the stern and sad truth spoken, that the breach which guilt has once made into the human soul is never, in this mortal state, repaired. It may be watched and guarded; so that the enemy shall not force his way again into the citadel, and might even, in his subsequent assaults, select some other avenue, in preference to that where he had formerly succeeded. But there is still the ruined wall, and, near it, the stealthy tread of the foe that would win over again his unforgotten triumph. (18.4)
Once guilty, always guilty. That's the kind of idea that leads to hit musicals and unstable communities. Without a concept of forgiveness and redemption, it's too easy to keep on sinning.
The stigma gone, Hester heaved a long, deep sigh, in which the burden of shame and anguish departed from her spirit. O exquisite relief! She had not known the weight, until she felt the freedom! (18.11-12)
So, it is the letter that makes Hester feel guilty—or does she actually accept the blame for her actions? Here, it seems like all the guilt and blame are sewn up into the letter. When she takes it off, she takes off the guilt as well.