In the Scarlet Letter, how is Hawthorne advancing his theme in chapter 17?
Chapter 17 shows Dimmesdale and Hester finally coming together to talk about the past 7 years. They meet in the cover of the woods, speaking first of mundane topics, then of Chillingworth's true identity and their continued love for each other. This chapter first helps advance Hawthorne's theme of sin and its consequences, specifically seen in the discussion of Chillingworth. Dimmesdale's suffering is connected to the secrecy of his sin. However, Chillingworth's purposeful quest of revenge on Dimmesdale causes Chillingworth to be labeled the worse sinner of all of them. At the same time, the theme of individuality is seen as well. Hester has remained true to who she is as an individual, though shunned by society, whereas Dimmesdale and Chillingworth have hidden. Because of this, they have suffered worse than Hester.
The chapter also brings connection to nature and the Transcendental themes and images often found in literature of this time period. It is significant to note that the woods (nature) is where Hester and Dimmesdale find safety to reveal their true feelings.