"the wild, free atmosphere of an unredeemed, unchristianized, lawless region"
The dreadful ambivalence of this sentence effectively encapsulates that of the entire novel. To the narrator, steeped in Puritan ideology but repelled by its harshness, embracing either religion or nature (its antithesis) is a spiritual dead end. Nature may seem to offer Dimmesdale a fleeting glimpse of relief and freedom but it is inextricably linked to the fallen condition of humanity and is therefore degenerate. Religion, on the other hand, permits redemption but is entrenched with a hypocrisy that acts as a stultifying, mechanical brake upon the soul.