Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Girl on the Plane” raises questions of complicity and responsibility, especially when another person is in trouble and might be acting in a self-destructive way. Early in their relationship, Patty tried to start a sexual relationship with Morton, but he did not accept, explaining that he was not as attracted to her. While Patty has sex with different men in the backroom at a party, Morton listens to see if she is fighting against her partners or complaining. He sees nothing wrong when a man pours a beer on her; Morton believes that Patty has gotten drunk and should understand that trouble comes with a choice like that.

As in many of her other stories, Mary Gaitskill paints a picture of sexual encounters in terms of power relationships. People do not connect in tender moments and in healthy relationships; they connect in manipulative, destructive fashions. Relationships are not described in terms of romantic images; they are physical, primal relations between animals. Men are described as working in packs. People circle each other, sniffing the air for fear.

Another theme within this story is the inability of people to connect empathically. The characters lack insight into their own behavior and also fail to connect with or understand each other. At the opening of the story, Morton is angry with a clerk and fantasizing about hitting him, but the problem was caused by Morton being late to the airport. Morton knows he is late everywhere,...

(The entire section is 436 words.)