Since there are no methods of atonement in the Puritan society, Dimmesdale must look for other ways to try and relieve himself of his terrible guilt. Though Chillingworth tries time and time again to get Dimmesdale to confess his evident sins, Dimmesdale knows God is the only person he can confess to and until then, he must work out his issues here on earth. In Chapter XX "The Minister in a Maze" the narrator describes Dimmesdale in his study. The quote shows the reader that, in an attempt for release, Dimmesdale had punished himself through vigils, prayer, and fasting.
Here he had studied and written; here, gone through fast and vigil, and come forth half alive; here, striven to pray; here, borne a hundred thousand agonies!
In Chapter XII "The Minister's Vigil" Dimmesdale returns to the spot where the novel began- the scaffold. He climbs up and stands there hoping someone will come by and see him and question what he is doing.
There is also the question of why Dimmesdale continually places his hand over his heart. One day during an afternoon nap, Chillingworth looks at his patient's chest. We know whatever he sees on Dimmesdale makes him very happy and seems to offer enough proof for whatever accusations he has concocted in his mind.
The physician advanced directly in front of his patient, laid his hand upon his bosom, and thrust aside the vestment, that, hitherto, had always covered it even from the professional eye. Then, indeed, Mr. Dimmesdale shuddered, and slightly stirred.
After a brief pause, the physician turned away. But with what a wild look of wonder, joy, and horror!