In The Scarlet Letter, why was Hester ultimately able to escape the "burning torture" (267) of the scarlet letter upon her chest, but Dimmesdale was not?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The "burning torture" to which Hawthorne refers in chapter XXIII of The Scarlet Letter is an allegory for the guilt that had been oppressing Dimmesdale for over seven years since the birth of Pearl. The most telling evidence of Hester's release from that "burning torture" occurs when Dimmesdale finally comes forth to admit his role in Hester's and Pearl's life. As he raises to the scaffold, he calls Hester to his side. This is basically a way to restore Hester's dignity in front of the same village that shun and repudiated her.

For thee and Pearl, be it as God shall order,” said the minister; “and God is merciful! Let me now do the will which He hath made plain before my sight. For, Hester, I am a dying man. So let me make haste to take my shame upon me.

Conversely, Dimmesdale admits being a dying man who will forever be attached to that scarlet letter, not only because it is carved on his chest, but because it has consumed his entire existence and now it may (according to Dimmesdale) determine his passage to heaven..or not. Therefore, while Hester's reputation is somewhat restored in the eyes of the villagers, Dimmesdale will forever keep that burning letter in his conscience, whether in this world or the next.

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The Scarlet Letter

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