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In a moment, however, wisely judging that one token of her shame would but poorly serve to hide another, she took the baby on her arm, and, with a burning blush, and yet a haughty smile, and a glance that would not be abashed, looked around at her townspeople and neighbours. On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. (2.10)
Hester accepts her community's blame—but she's going to let it get her down. In other words, doesn't have to ruin your life; it can maybe even redeem it. (Try telling that to your parents next time you break curfew.)
"[…] Be not silent from any mistaken pity and tenderness for him; for, believe me, Hester, though he were to step down from a high place, and stand there beside thee, on thy pedestal of shame, yet better were it so, than to hide a guilty heart through life." (3.26)
Dimmesdale practically begs Hester to place the blame where it belongs (on him), but she refuses. Why? When the whole community is frothing at the mouth to shame someone else, why does she protect Dimmesdale?
Calm, gentle, passionless, as he appeared, there was yet, we fear, a quiet depth of malice, hitherto latent, but active now, in this unfortunate old man, which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy. To make himself the one trusted friend, to whom should be confided all the fear, the remorse, the agony, the ineffectual repentance, the backward rush of sinful thoughts, expelled in vain! All that guilty sorrow, hidden from the world, whose great heart would have pitied and forgiven, to be revealed to him, the Pitiless, to him, the Unforgiving! All that dark treasure to be lavished on the very man, to whom nothing else could so adequately pay the debt of vengeance! (11.1)
Anyone else get goosebumps? Look at the way guilt is described: as a "dark treasure" to be "lavished" on someone. If you ask us, that's a little sick.