As Dimmesdale returns from a visit to the company of Apostle Eliot, they hear Hester’s voice in the wilderness. He is very surprised and thinks she might be a ghost. Dimmesdale and Hester lengthily discuss the previous seven years. He then confesses his unhappiness and misery. He compares his secret to Hester’s public humiliation.
Hester uses this opportunity to inform Dimmesdale about Chillingworth’s secret. She is still in love with Dimmesdale and begs him to forgive her for her silence.
Dimmesdale is now angry and blames Hester for his torment. He also realizes why he instinctively retreated from Chillingworth when they first met. Hester is unable to bear his castigation. She falls by his side and begins to cry. However, Dimmesdale pardons her and prays for God’s pardon on both of them. He instead claims Dimmesdale is the greatest sinner since he transgressed in cold blood unlike them.
Hester advises Dimmesdale to flee to the wilderness or go back to Europe and start a new life. She even offers to go with him.
Analysis of the Chapter 17
This chapter marks the reawakening of the love between Dimmesdale and Hester. Hawthorne elaborates his view on punishment and forgiveness that intentional malicious acts are more sinful than acts of passion. He also offers hope that the two characters will finally escape the suffering.
The author showcases the differences between Hester’s admission of guilt and Dimmesdale’s outward refusal to come forward with the truth. Though Hester attempts to convince him that his sins have been forgiven, Dimmesdale is aware that he cannot go anywhere while still bearing his hidden guilt.
A contrast is made between the Hester-Dimmesdale love affair and the vengeful acts committed by Chillingworth. Which one is more sinful? Who has intentionally gone against God’s will? Hester also believes they have both paid their dues and can escape to a new spiritually enriching life away from Puritans.