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"Had I one friend, —or were it my worst enemy! —to whom, when sickened with the praises of all other men, I could daily betake myself, and be known as the vilest of all sinners, methinks my soul might keep itself alive thereby. Even thus much of truth would save me! But now, it is all falsehood! —all emptiness! —all death!" (17.18)
Poor Dimmesdale. All he wants is for one person—anyone—to know just how bad he is. But instead, the entire town thinks he's basically an angel on earth. Must be hard.
"[…] 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?