The second scaffold scene in the narrative of The Scarlet Letter begins with Reverend Dimmesdale on the scaffold on "The Minister's Vigil." It is clear that he longs to share in the punishment of Hester Prynne, but he cannot bring himself to do so publicly. Placing himself on the scaffold, a place of public shaming, at a time when he cannot be seen speaks to his psychological, spiritual and moral need to face his congregation. He feels a conflicted duty to reveal to them that he is Pearl's father, the man who inadvertently cuckolded Roger Prynne (Chillingworth), and was Hester's partner in sexual intercourse outside marriage.
Psychologically, Dimmesdale feels extreme guilt for his failure as the spiritual leader of the Puritans in the colony. He failed to live his faith by pursuing a sexual relationship with Hester and feels like a hypocrite undeserving of leading his congregation. To Pearl, he has failed in his moral obligation of fatherhood, as he leaves her and her mother to struggle financially and emotionally in a society that ostracizes them. He denies Hester the love and protection of a husband.
As a devout Puritan, he believes that his actions are irrefutable proof that he is not destined for heaven. He is spiritually bankrupt, and in following the dogma of Puritanism, believes that he was not born into the elect.
The cover of darkness in the second scaffold scene emphasizes Dimmesdale's concealed longing to bring his sins into the light of day.