What gesture does Arthur Dimmesdale make as he seems to loathe himself?Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," Arthur Dimmesdale is apparently a very sensitive man, or else he would not have sinned with Hester, realizing the dangers to his position in the community.  For, there is an emotive quality to Dimmesdale that has no outlet in the stultifying Puritan community.  Always he is perceived by the community as an almost ethereal being; as a result, he has no meaningful connection to other members of the community except Hester.

His gesture of touching his heart connotes his pangs of agony in finding no meaningful connection as well as his pangs of conscience, knowing that he conceals a secret sin and is a hypocrite.  While Hester's

tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free.  The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread...and had mader her strong, ...the minister, on the other hand, had never gone throuan an experience calculated to lead him beyond the scope of generally received laws;  Since that wretched epoch, he had watched, with morbid zeal and minuteness, not his acts--for those it was easy to arrange--but each breath of emotion, and his every thought. 

In Chapter XVII, Hawthorne narrates,

As a priest, the framework of his order inevitably hemmed him in.  As a man who had once sinned, but who kept his conscience all alive and painfully sensitive by the fretting of an unhealed wound...

 This awareness of his guilt is exacerbated by the sinister presence of Roger Chillingworth, who probes continually into the mind and heart of Dimmesdale, "violating the sanctity of the human heart," as Hawthorne writes.

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The Scarlet Letter

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