The Scarlet Letter Chapter 11
Chillingworth's discovery changes the way he thinks about his relationship to Dimmesdale. He now has a plan, and "a quiet depth of malice, hitherto latent, but active now...which led him to imagine a more intimate revenge than any mortal had ever wreaked upon an enemy." Chapter 11, pg. 128. Dimmesdale senses that there is a dark force operating around him to make him feel worse, but he cannot tell from where it is coming. Despite the fact that Dimmesdale finds Chillingworth disgusting, ugly and unsettling in his physical appearance, he maintains close ties with Chillingworth without realizing that he may be the source of the evil. Despite all this worrying, and possibly even because of it, Dimmesdale becomes very popular among his congregation, who refuse to consider that Dimmesdale, when he calls himself a sinner, might be telling the truth, as opposed to trying to set a holy example. In private, Dimmesdale uses a whip to inflict the bloody wound on his chest that never heals.
In addition, Dimmesdale fasts for days at a time, testing his endurance by using this traditional Puritan form of penance. During these long fasts he stays up at night, and begins to hallucinate. He often sees Hester Prynne and Pearl walking towards him, as Pearl points first to Hester's Scarlet Letter and then to Arthur Dimmesdale's bloody chest. "To the untrue man, the whole universe is false,- it is impalpable,- it shrinks to nothing within his grasp....The only truth that continued to give Mr. Dimmesdale a real existence on this earth was the anguish in his inmost soul" Chapter 11, pg. 134. One of these nights, he is seized with an idea. He dresses carefully for public worship and steps quietly outside.