In Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel, The Scarlet Letter, Dimmesdale serves as both the protagonist and villain to display the hypocrisy of Puritan society as well as the pain that hypocrisy causes. Hawthorne, who was so disgusted with his Puritan ancestors that he changed his own last name (by adding a "w"), wrote the novel as a direct criticism of the Puritan society at its worst, using Dimmesdale as a tool for that criticism. Dimmesdale first villainizes the community with a heinous act, then tortures himself by hiding the act inside against his own will, until the guilt of hypocrisy leads to his own death.
From the beginning of the novel, Dimmesdale is established as a villain. The entire town is in chaos over Hester, who is the mother to a fatherless child and must disgrace her own dignity by showing her adulterous sins to the entire town. Hidden even from the reader is the fact that Dimmesdale, the so-called righteous minister, is the father to her child.
He knows that as a minister his sole purpose is to protect and nurture the eternal souls of his congregation, yet he falls for lust and takes complete advantage of an innocent member. At the time, a minister was the community spiritual leader, revered with as much respect as God himself, and nearly all of the church members would treat his words as scripture, doing anything they could to please him. Likewise, innocent Hester falls for the "grand minister" Dimmesdale as any woman in her time would have done, but now must suffer the consequences of prolonged shame.
However, when Hester is on the pedestal of shame, Dimmesdale stands "pale," speaks with "broken" words, and stands "with his hand upon his heart." While he desperately wants to turn himself in with Hester, his...