Defining Choices
An essay by Rina Stewart

During their lives, Hester Prynne and Dana Scully made decisions and choices that were not considered the "correct" ones by their peers and family members. These choices, however, led both women to the right paths. With every choice made, there is at least one alternative. One possible way to look at these life-changing choices is each leads to a possible other life. "I don't think you can know [what you would miss]. I mean, how many different lives would we be leading if we made different choices" (Anderson). If Hester had not agreed to sail to America without her husband, or if Scully had not left Daniel and medical school for the FBI, their lives would have been nothing like what they became, and they themselves would be different. Although these choices were not the obvious ones for each woman to make, they turned out to be the correct ones as they led to events which changed each of them for the better, as shown through Gillian Anderson's "all things" and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.

Every day is full of choices and decisions that have the possibility to change people's lives. Each set of choices brings the person to where they are. Hester chose to come to America alone, to have an affair with Dimmesdale, and to not name him as the father of her child. Scully chose to leave medical school, join the FBI, and to work with Mulder. Hester's choices were in direct opposition to what was expected of her by the community at large. After her child was born to her in the jail, the townswomen gathered outside to demonstrate their contempt for Hester and her actions. The women spoke of death as what Hester's punishment should be, and While Hester's actions left her as an outcast in her community, Scully's led to a virtual disintegration of her familial relationships. Scully's choices were seen as mere rebellion by her parents, and they never truly accepted her decisions. When she entered the FBI, her family was disappointed in her. They saw her as giving up a promising career as a doctor and heading into a dead end job where she would have no chance to distinguish herself. When her father died, years after she became an agent, she was troubled by the thought that she and her father had never come to terms with her life decisions. When Scully visited the Buddha temple, her first visions were of her father and his funeral, leading back to her unresolved feelings with their relationship.

"What if there was only one choice and all the other ones were wrong? And there were signs along the way to pay attention to. . . And all the choices would then lead to this very moment" (Anderson). Both Hester and Scully were on their right paths, but needed the signs to keep them there. Pearl was the one who kept Hester on her path. One scene that demonstrates this is when Hester takes three-year-old Pearl to visit the Governor's mansion. When asked the simple question of who made her, Pearl decided to answer playfully, although she knew what was expected of her. When the horrified men vowed that Pearl should be taken from Hester and brought up correctly, Hester sprang to her own defense, refusing to let the child, her "happiness and . . .torture," be taken from her (Hawthorne 104). The way she stood fast in the face of opposition showed her growing strength and resolve. Pearl's action forced Dimmesdale, as well, to defend Hester's choices. Another incident is the forest scene, several years later. When Pearl sees that her mother has stripped the "A" from her chest and thrown it in the water, she throws a tantrum. While this can be seen as a child not liking the change in her mother, it also shows that Pearl will not let her mother regress or stray from her path. "From the earliest epoch of her conscious life, she had entered upon this as her appointed mission" (Hawthorne 165). Without Pearl and her direct influence, Hester's life would have been entirely different, and she would not have experienced the correct path. For Scully, the person keeping her on her path was a blonde woman, who could easily be an adult version of her dead daughter Emily, or simply a random guardian angel. In her first appearance, she was a nurse who gave Scully the wrong X-rays. Despite her experiences of the last seven years, Agent Scully stuck firmly with her beliefs in science over the unconfirmed. When she saw her former lover who held the same convictions she had been taught, Scully was able to realize that she was not the same person she had been ten years earlier. She has grown as a person and expanded her beliefs. Once Scully was able to see this, the blonde lady led her straight to Mulder. When Scully explained the events of the past two days, he was stunned, telling her, "I just find it hard to believe…The part where I go away for two days and your whole life changes" (Anderson). Her life did not actually change, she just listened to Colleen Azar’s advice, "There is a greater intelligence in all things. Accidents-- or near accidents-- often remind us that we need to keep our mind open to the lessons it gives. You may want to slow down" (Anderson). When she did this, she realized that she knew what her path was, and surrendered to it. The final scene of the episode showed a small Buddha statue, similar to the one Scully saw earlier in the temple, underneath Mulder's fish tank. Its eyes opened slowly, showing both Scully and Mulder's acceptance of each other as their paths.

Both women gained self-awareness from the events and challenges that came with their choices and paths. Hester's "A" and Scully's cancer were points that forced each to explore within themselves and find depths of spirit and strength they did not realize they were capable of. Dimmesdale speaks of Hester's refusal to name her daughter's father as "Wondrous strength and generosity of a woman's heart!" (Hawthorne 64). She saw her situation as her chance to show her love for Dimmesdale by protecting him from the same ostracism and dishonor that was directed towards her, and telling the townspeople, ". . .would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine" (Hawthorne 64). As part of her own self-punishment, she decided to stay and live on the outskirts of town, as it had "been the scene or her guilt, and. . .[would] be the scene of her earthly punishment" (Hawthorne 74). She slowly built a life for herself and her daughter, sewing clothes for the very people who scorned her. Staying was a challenge, one that gave her and her strength a chance to grow. For Scully, "It's the cancer that got my attention. It stopped me from being on the self-destructive path I was on. It made me realize I was in a field that had little meaning for me and it's what's allowed me to be happy for what feels like the first time in my life" (Anderson). Although this was Colleen Azar explaining her life to Scully, the agent had her own comparable experience with a brain tumor three years earlier. In the dream shown during "all things," Scully sees her former cancer-ridden self, days from death, saying "Speak to me.." (Anderson). In those months she was dying, she allowed herself to become open to ideas outside her faith. In addition, her near death experience forced her to come to terms with life and choices, as she explored the strength that came with the knowledge of her imminent death. Facing death led to a self-awareness as she tried to say goodbye to her loved ones. After her sudden and unexpected recovery, due to an alien computer chip inserted into her neck, Scully tried to move past her experience. Her dream, as influenced by Colleen and their conversations, was trying to tell her again to slow down and pay attention to all that she has learned. During key scenes where the blonde woman could not be present, bells were heard in the background. The bells served as a symbol of another wake-up call for Scully to pay attention to her life, one Scully did not heed until after her eye opening visions and the dream of herself once again stricken with cancer.

For Hester and Scully, religion was a large part of their lives. In Hester's time, church was the central building of the town, signifying its central importance to the culture. In addition, the minister was one of the most important people in the town. His morals and virtues gave him the role as the town's most certain link to their God. Scully was raised Irish Catholic, and still wears the tiny cross necklace her mother gave her for Christmas when she was fifteen. Due to their life choices, they lost faith in the Church, although their faith in God never wavered. Hester did not attend Church after her daughter’s birth, but remained pious, schooling Pearl about God and his teachings. By the time Pearl was only three years old, she "could have borne a fair examination in the New England Primer, or the first column of the Westminster Catechisms" (Hawthorne 102). Later in her life, after Pearl had gone to England, Hester aided and counseled young women who came to see her, telling them that "the angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman indeed" (Hawthorne 239). Scully was able to broaden her religion to accept Mulder's faith in the extraterrestrial, as well as other theologies. After being led to a Buddhist temple by the blonde woman, a god showed her visions of the big events and important people in her life, ranging from her father, sister and daughter to several visions of Mulder. These visions reinforced how much her life had changed, well as how she had grown, and she accepted them as such, despite her Catholic upbringing. While the statue of Buddha had its eyes closed when Scully entered, the eyes were opened, as were Scully's. Between her visits to Colleen Azar's home, which was almost a temple of serenity in itself, she finally allowed herself to become open to the signs in her life. A large part of Scully’s faith was in medicine and science, and she was able to expand even these. She had almost no problems asking a holistic healer to come visit Daniel Waterston, although it went against all that she had been taught. Her own experiences with her cancer cure and other X-Files had shown her that unconventional answers were just as possible, and this led her to be open to new possibilities, where she would not have tried otherwise.

Choices can lead to continuing investigation within one's self. In the cases of Hester and Scully, this truth prevails. By persisting in their goals to go on the right path, they were able to obtain greater courage and strength. Not only did the decisions that were made influence the women internally, but they also radiated to everyone within reach. Friends, family, and even entire towns were affected by the decision, some in a positive way and others with a negative way. Both impacts are valid and caused a definite impression upon each thing touched. Since the women had the ability to hold on to the truths they did and change when they realized their mistakes, the outcomes led them along the path of truth. Believing in themselves was the ultimate defining choice.

Works Cited

Anderson, Gillian. "all things." First airdate, April 9, 2000.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. Bantam: New York, 1986.

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