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Hawthorne is commenting especially about the effects of hidden sin. Although Dimmesdale has never publicly confessed to his sin, he continues to punish himself for his adultery. In the previous chapter, Chillingworth discovered that Dimmesdale has either cut or burnt a letter "A" into his chest. He hold all night prayer vigils, whips himself and fasts for long periods. His hateful behavior towards himself focuses all his attention on himself so that he is blind to Chillingworth's emotional torture of him. He often starts to tell his congregation of his guilt but then stops and just tells them he is a great sinner. Ironically, this makes him even more revered in his congregation's mind because they think if a man like Dimmesdale thinks he's a sinner, he really must be a saint. He becomes, in their eyes, a more powerful preacher and seems much more holy than the average person.
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