In Chapter 12 of "The Scarlet Letter," the Reverend Dimmesdale steps up on the scaffold in the cover of dark in this second of three scaffold scenes, a scene which appears in the exact middle of Hawthorne's novel. Here several characters are gathered together in a powerfully symbolic chapter. As the Reverend Mr. Wilson passes by, Dimmesdale, almost insanely cries out unwillingly to him. His shriek is heard by Governor Bellingham and Mistress Hibbins, the governor's sister. If any of these three people hear Dimmesdale, his impulse to expose himself will be realized and judgments made.
Beyond the shadow of a doubt, this venerable witch-lady had heard Mr. Dimmesdale's outcry, and interpreted it, with its multitudinous echoes and reverberations as the clamor of the fiends and night-bags, with whom he was well known to make excursions into the forest.
His loud laugh alarms even Dimmesdale as Pearl and Hester hear. These actions occur as the minister's conscious mind tries to reason through his guilt while his subconscious mind reacts.
It is significant that Governor Bellingham and Mistress Hibbins are themselves hypocrites, since the Puritan Bellingham lives in a British splendor from which the Puritans rebelled, and his sister is secretly a participant in the Black Mass in the forest. So, the suggestion of Dimmesdale's hypocrisy is underscored by the presence of these two personages. The Reverend Wilson who passes in contrast to Dimmesdale also points to hypocrisy in the Reverend Dimmesdale.
Of course, the symbolism of the A in the sky cannot be missed. Ironically, the townspeople interpret the letter as meaning "Angel" for the old governor who has died. Dimmesdale, of course, finds the A a rather small letter.