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Central to the understanding of Chapter XX are Hawthorne's reflections upon the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale.
No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.
After departing the forest where he has met with Hester, it is a revitalized minister who walks the path to town; yet, after this transformation, he feels strange impulses to be irreligious to those he passes on his return in order that they might know that he is not the same man for whom they take him. Dimmesdae is both afraid that they may suspect him of wrongdoing, while at the same time he is tempted to shock the members of his congregation with his impiety.
Clearly, the Reverend Mr. Dimmesdale feels a sense of looming fate over him as, having been lifted from the burden of his conscience with Hester in the forest, he impulsively now desires to free his soul before others of its wickedness. Perplexed by his new "face.' he wonders if he has turned to evil.
Wrestling with his conscience, Dimmesdale is described by Hawthorne,
The wretched minister! He had made a bargain very like it! Tempted by a dream of happiness, he had yielded himself with deliberate choice, as he had never done before, to what he knew was deadly sin. And the infectious poison of that sin had been thus rapidly diffused throughout his moral system.
As he nears his dwelling, the minister takes "refuge" inside and looks around with a strangeness. He realizes that the minister who has written what is on the table, is not the same as the one who now sits there, one who views the first with scornful pity and "half-"envious curiosity,"
That self was gone! Another man had returned out of the forest; a wiser one; with a knowledge of hidden mysteries which the simplicity of the former never could have reached. A bitter kind of knowledge that!
Because he cannot go back to what he was; because he now cannot wear a different face to himself, the reverend Dimmesdale comes to a crossroad in his life. Just then, Roger Chillingworth enters and the minister becomes white and speechless as though he has perceived "an evil spirit." The physician offers to treat the minister to help him gain strength for the morrow, but Dimmesdale refuses, saying that he has no further need of medicines. When Chillingworth declares that people worry that their minister may not be around in the next year, Dimmesdale remarks that he may go,
"Yea, to another world,” replied the minister, with pious resignation. “Heaven grant it be a better one; for, in good sooth, I hardly think to tarry with my flock through the flitting seasons of another year! But, touching your medicine, kind Sir, in my present frame of body I need it not.”
After the physician leaves, Dimmesdale tosses the Election Sermon into the fire, for it no longer belongs to him. Then, with an "impulsive flow of thought and emotion," he begins another sermon. feeling inspired. All night he writes "with earnest haste and ecstasy," a tortured soul setting itself free from its long bewilderment.
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