Mary Gaitskill’s The Girl on the Plane


Identify what you think is a main theme of the story. State the theme as your thesis statement

Analyze how the author crates the theme, referring to specific incidents or images in the story. In other words: Explain how you discovered the theme.

Use KEY TERMS (character type, point-of-view, inciting action, conflict-development-resolution, exposition, metaphor, symbol, internal time, recognition, reversal, motif, epiphany, flat character, dynamic character, protagonist, antagonist, ect.) to develop your ideas.

Sample paper

Mary Gaitskill’s The Girl on the Plane

Mary Gaitskill’s “The Girl on the Plane” is a story about John Morton and Lorraine, a woman he meets on the plane by chance. John Motorn is the first on the seat. He seems frustrated and angry that he cannot keep time. Soon, Lorraine joins him in the next seat. She flushes out a copy of People Magazine and becomes engrossed in the stories written on the magazine. Lorraine reminds Morton about a girl he had earlier met. Patty was the name of this girl. They had met at Meadow Community College in Minnesota – and yes, had a romantic relationship with the college girl that ended awry. The conversation between Morton and Lorraine, as well as the numerous flashbacks that the reader goes through helps in highlighting the major contention the story. The main theme of the story is about the complex nature of sexual relations between men and women, and issues on complicity and manipulation in sexual relations. The story explores emotion and desire among men and women, showing how complex it can turn out to be.

Motor is observant and judgmental as well. Soon after Morton settles on his seat, he starts scrutinizing every interesting thing happening on the plane. He notices how the flight attendants put effort to ensure everything is right before takeoff. He takes note of the women lining up to vising the bathroom. It is at this moment that the author introduces the inciting action. Inciting action refers to an incident, usually at the beginning of the play, which sets in motion the entire events of the story. The inciting action is Lorraine’s grand entrance into the plane, which Morton keenly follows. Morton is amazed by Lorraine’s beauty as she walks down the aisle and towards where he is seated. On taking her seat, Morton notices a rueful smile on her face. He attributes the smile to women who have had countless sex with men. He also finds her smile sexy. Morton shows raw sexual desire as he admires Lorraine who is reading a magazine. It is at this point he begins flashbacks about his past sexual encounters with girls.

Gaitskill employs dialogue in the story to bring about different character type. After he boards the plane, a girl takes the next seat and they immediately strike a conversation. Morton is the protagonist in the story. The protagonist is the good character, and often the one facing a particular conflict. The protagonist is the focus of the story. The protagonist should command empathy or involvement from the readers. However, the protagonist is not always admirable. Morton, the protagonist in the story, has feelings of complicity about a rape he participated. As he reveals during the flight, he still has feelings of guilt, after participating in raping Patty, someone he confesses to hold deep admiration. He says, “If you want to talk about mistakes – shit, I raped somebody. Somebody I liked” (135). Morton tries to downplay the situation after realizing the shock on Lorraine. He claims that it was not actually a rape, but something “complicated.” Prior to the said ‘rape’, Patty had made sexual advances at Morton, but he had turned them down claiming she was too drunk. This highlights the complex nature of relationships.

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Lorraine reminds Morton of the girls he had sexual encounters with before meeting his wife. She is the round character in the story. A round character is one that shows varied and at times contradictory traits. Round characters can change in the course of the story, highlighting their complex personality. Lorraine admits that she does not own a TV, let alone watching the L.A. Law. This is something that Morton finds quite odd, considering that even his friends who live in the poorest neighborhoods own a TV set. This helps in showing her contradictory personality. In developing the theme of the story, Lorraine seems attracted to Morton at first. After perusing through her magazine, she turns to Morton in a way that “invited conversation” (123). Morton begins reviewing the girls he dated before he met his wife, helping develop the theme about complex nature of sexual relations. Morton ponders about Andrea, a girl who he seems to regret ever having met. He mentally reviews the encounters he had with Patty LaForge, ending up with a rape he feels guilty about even today.

Throughout the story, Morton experiences flashbacks, which help readers in glimpsing the sexual relationships he had over the years. The narrator peers into Morton’s past concerning relationships through flashbacks. A third-person limited point of view helps readers experience the nature of sexual relationships Morton had, and his inner feelings towards them. In the third-person limited point of view, the narrator is only able to describe the thoughts of one character, usually the main character. Morton recalls a girl by the name Andrea, whom he claims, “made an asshole of him” (123). It seems Andrea manipulated Morton for her selfish gains. This is the reason why he still feels hateful towards her. Through the third-limited point of view, readers are led in Morton’s mind, where it is possible to see the confusions he has concerning whether he actually raped Patty. Patty was a loose girl. Nonetheless, he still carries the guilt to this day. Morton also remembers a girl by the name of Layla, whom he longed to get in bed with but never got the chance.

The author depicts relationships as primal affairs, rather than romantic images readers may expect. The connections between individuals involve manipulations and hidden motives among the individuals concerned. This makes relationships quite complex. Morton talks about Layla, a girl he always admired and whom he describes as exuding sexual knowledge and girlish curiosity. At one time, he touched her inappropriately during a Halloween party. The narrator employs a figure of speech, specifically a simile to show how Layla reacted. The author says, “She smiled like a mother of four who worked as a porn model on the side” (125). Morton had a longing to ‘explore’ Layla, but he never got the chance. This highlights the primal nature of relations in that Morton was only longing to have intercourse with Layla as a way of exploring her beauty, with no plans for commitment. Morton enjoyed driving with girls, buying alcohol, and engaging in sexual encounters with them.

Morton and Lorraine have had their share of unhealthy sexual relationships. Lorraine admits that the only mistakes in her life were dating someone named Jerry, and failing to join a band that later became famous. It is ironical that dropping out of school is not on the list of her worst mistakes in life. Morton tries to reaffirm to her that it was not a mistake dropping out of school, while he himself finished college. Lorraine has had many sexual relationships, and she is yet to settle down in marriage. She confesses that while staring at Thorold, she felt she could not fit in. This contributed to low self-esteem, in what she describes as not feeling sexy. This hints to her desire during this period to develop and maintain sexual relationships with men, but she felt unattractive and unwanted. Towards the end, Morton confesses that he has done terrible mistakes in his life – like rape. This is a turn off to Lorraine, who metaphorically drifts away “at the speed of light” (135).

Work Cited

Gaitskill, Mary. The Girl on the Plane.

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