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After the minister meets in the forest with Hester Prynne, the Reverend Dimmesdale reflects,
"If in all these past seven years,...I could recall one instant of peace or hope, I would yet endure, for that sake of that earnest of Heaven's mercy."
Because he feels so much like a hypocrite, the Reverend Dimmesdale knows no peace or hope. In Chapter XI, "The Interior of a Heart," Nathaniel Hawthorne writes that Arthur Dimmesdale feels inconceivable agony as the congregation venerates him, believing that he humbles himself before them because he is so saintly, rather than because he is guilty of grievous sin. As the members of his congregation revere him at the pulpit, Dimmesdale feels tortured by their veneration. In his love of the truth,
he longed to speak out, from his own pulpit, at the full height of his voice, and tell the people what he was...."I, your pastor, whom you so reverence and trust, am utterly a pollution and a lie!"
But the congregation will not believe him when he says that he is "a viler companion of the vilest, the worst of sinners...." Dimmesdale knows as he confesses that he has committed another sin--"and transformed it into the veriest falsehood.....Therefore, above all things else, he loathed his miserable self!"
This "inward trouble" drives Dimmesdale to indulge in self-punishment. He self-flagellates, he fasts, and he holds vigils. Yet, he cannot purify himself.
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