In "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the character of Arthur Dimmesdale seeks penitence for committing adultery by publicly confessing to his sin. He feels guilty that his lover, Hester Prynne, has taken all the blame for their transgression, which is symbolized within the community by the scarlet letter A that she is forced to wear. However, as the community's reverend, Dimmesdale's confession is perceived to be symbolic and the townspeople do not believe that he could be referring to himself.
The confession comes towards the end of the story, just before Dimmesdale's death. Until that point, he lacked the courage to admit to committing adultery with Hester. As a result of his cowardice, his guilt is turned inwards and causes him to deteriorate both physically and spiritually. When a physician examines Dimmesdale, he discovers a scarlet A on his chest.
Following Hester's suggestion, Dimmesdale plans to leave America for Europe as a means of escaping his shame and living privately with his lover. Although this leads to an improvement in his condition, his faith in the plan does not last. His final sermon is given to the town on Election Day, after which he climbs the scaffold in the public square and confesses to the town.