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Dimmesdale, while grateful for the respect and concern of the members of his parish, is weighed down by the guilt of secrecy and hypocrisy.
In the beginning of the novel, Dimmesdale openly criticizes, punishes, and publicly humiliates Hester Prynne for her crime of adultery. He stands upon the scaffold and demands that she reveal the identity of the father of her illegitimate child to himself and the other community members who are present to watch and judge her. Hester holds her silence because the father is Dimmesdale, the town minister, and she wants to protect his reputation. This decision proves to be a blessing and a curse for Dimmesdale. He is relieved because his parishioners do not have to find out that their respected, beloved minister is the perpetrator and co-conspirator of this haines crime. Simultaneously, he is frustrated because if Hester had revealed him, he would not have to live so vigilantly in secrecy and guilt.
Over the next 7 years, Hester's decision combined with his own indecision and guilt haunt and slowly destroy the minister. He becomes pale, gaunt, and weak, frequently clutching at his chest. His indecision circles around the townspeople and their well-being. He loves them all, despite their flaws, and does not wish to disappoint them. He fears that if he reveals his secret, especially after hiding and waiting for so very long, his parishioners will lose faith, not just in him, but in God. He worries that his flock will stray from their religion entirely if he, their very image of goodly righteousness, is exposed as a lecher, a liar, and a hypocrite in one fell swoop. He wants to let them know what he is, what he has done, but he cannot bring himself to jeopardize their faith. It is because of this indecision and waffling that he loses his health, self-respect, and eventually control of his mind before finally confessing and then dying immediately afterward.
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