What does this statement from chapter XVIII mean? Sin "had been a sin of passion, not of principle, not even purpose" Near the beginning of chapter XVIII, Hawthorne says that Dimmesdale's sin "had been a sin of passion, not of principle, not even purpose." What does this statement mean?

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As the narrator will explain, this means that Dimmesdale's sin—sleeping with Hester, a married woman not his wife—had to do with being carried away by the emotion of the moment, nothing more. It had nothing to do with his principles being defective or with even a "purpose" or calculation in which he consciously decided he would sin. It was a brief lapse brought on by passion, and we learn that Dimmesdale, as a result, now monitors his "each breath of emotion, and his every thought."

At the end of the previous chapter, Hester, meeting with Dimmesdale in the woods, and seeing how oppressed he has been the last seven years by the weight of his sin, urges him to go away and start over somewhere new, perhaps by trying to convert the Native Americans. He, however, is too weak and broken to go alone. Hester says, no, don't go alone, and says she will flee with him.

Having once let his emotions carry him into sin, it is now easy for Dimmesdale, the narrator says, to repeat the same mistake:

But there is still the ruined wall [the initial sin], and near it the stealthy tread of the foe [Satan] that would win over again his unforgotten triumph.

Dimmesdale decides that he will flee with Hester. His emotions overtook him once and led him into sin. Now they are overtaking him again.

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Since this follows the chapter where Hester and Dimmesdale get together for the first time in 7 years, it provides an interesting comment on their sin as compared to Chillingworth's.  Hester has just suggested that "what we did" (no mention of sin or even of something that was wrong, just what we did) had a "consecration" of its own.  She is speaking of an act of adultery in religious terms of the sacred act in a Catholic Mass.  Sins of passion tend to be things that we are "hard wired" for, that are part of our chemistry, and adultery is one of these.

On the other hand, the sin of Chillingworth is not tied to any chemistry, but is rather of principal and purpose --- it is the calculated decision to destroy another human being.  Dimmesdale, guilt ridden though he is, knows it:

That old man's revenge has been blacker than my sin. He has violated, in cold blood, the sanctity of a human heart. Thou and I, Hester, never did so!"

This distinction introduces two concepts.  One is that all sins are not the same, that sins of revenge, sins of calculation, are much worse than sins of passion.  It also introduces the concept of the individual making decisions about morality outside the "iron framework" of the church, separating church and state in a way that it is not at the start of the novel where they are identified as one and the same.

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