Mary Gaitskill’s “Because They Wanted To”: A Prediction about Elise
In Mary Gaitskill’s “Because They Wanted To” between pages 25 and 57 lies the story of Elise. Elise is a young girl struggling to overcome her present state as an impoverished runaway youth. At first it seems that her struggle will be continuous as her attempts to discover ways to make money or to find a job are littered with difficulties. However, Elise shows, through her reactions to life, that she has the strength and the determination to eventually triumph over the poverty that surrounds her. There are three main traits that Elise holds within her that lead me to believe she can overcome poverty and find that special niche that will make her ordinary life extraordinary. These traits are a great power of observation, a viewpoint on life as a battle that can be overcome, and her sense of responsibility. These three traits lead me to believe Elise will “find a special pocket hidden in ordinary life” as she did in the past when she felt omniscient and close to her family while observing them from the roof of her father’s house.
It is evident that Elise is observant to the point where she is in touch with other people’s feelings and thoughts. Her astuteness is apparent in the memories she dredges up while babysitting the children for Robin. “He would put his arm around his little brother….There would be two feelings in his eyes when he did this…..Rick would look at him, and tenderness would shimmer under his eyes, trying to get out. But then he would go back to being mean again.” (Gaitskill,36-37) When Elise reveals her memories, they all show how she could read others’ feelings by watching them and listening. She could understand the true person inside by simply observing closely and drawing conclusions that were relevant and valid.
Another place that this is apparent is when she is simply looking out the windows or taking notice of others around her. While she is babysitting she looks out the window with boredom to watch the people below. “They sat huddled as if they were glad to have arrived at the absolute bottom, where it was nice and solid….as if protecting something very special…”(Gaitskill,33) Elise drew conclusions about everyone and everything she observed and then let it soak into her mind so that she might react to it in a way to better change herself. She seemed to want to understand her surroundings and the people around her. This made sense when I realized she was using this information to decide what to do herself to make her life turn out the way she wanted it to.
Elise sees herself and others as fighting a battle against ordinary life. “The baby looked at Elise solemnly and then drew her gaze back inward as she returned to the business of creating a person who could survive in the world.”(Gaitskill, 39) Seeing the baby from this viewpoint, not as a little mind learning and growing but as already struggling to be able to survive her life, Elise reveals her own sense of battling with the ordinary forces of life to create the life she wants- a life without poverty and disappointment. Later when remembering her mother, she has a sense of this battle with life again. “Her mother would turn her head to greet Elise. ….Elise saw in her profile a mix of love and sadness…and forlorn bewilderment at the way everything had turned out.” (Gaitskill, 50) By coming to this conclusion, Elise shows that she realizes that life can turn out differently than you want it to no matter what you do. This prepares her to try harder to take control over her own life.
Elise’s sense of responsibility is the final part of her that can make her go the extra mile to overcome her present impoverished state and live a better life. Her great sense of duty becomes evident in many ways. First, she stays long into the night waiting for the mother to arrive home while she is babysitting. Then she makes sure the children’s neighbors know to check on the children as she is leaving for home. And lastly, Elise shows that she feels liable the next morning when she strolls by the apartment to see if maybe she can tell what had happened. Elise shows a sense of responsibility to her family, too. With the hope and dream of being successful and “…making money, then going back home and buying everybody presents. She imagined how grateful they’d be.” (Gaitskill, 56) So Elise not only wants to make her life better, but to share her success with the family she left behind. With a strong sense of responsibility, I believe Elise will not fail because she will feel liable for her failures and work to correct them until she gets it right. Elise will use this trait to try again and again until she overcomes poverty or any other obstacle that gets in her way.
Through many examples which Elise offers with her memories, this story shows that life can throw us many difficulties that we will need to overcome to make life what we want it to be. Elise sees dysfunction in her family, violence in Robin’s tale of her husband, and poverty all around her. With these examples, and even the stories about her family members, we can see the difficulties life brings on all of us, but we also see how society deals with them. Elise meets men who try to take advantage of her. She discovers the hardness that meets Robin when she tries to protect her children by escaping violence, and she faces the reality of her decision to run away. The strange world does not embrace her with gentle arms. On the contrary, she finds out how the rest of society looks upon runaways like her when she meets people who are harsh to her or others who offer only temporary help, like the lady in the purple jacket from Youth Outreach. (Gatiskill, 48-49)
In conclusion, Gaitskill shows that Elise has to brave many hardships to get out of her impoverished state. However, she also reveals many traits in Elise that will help her to do just that. I believe Elise has the strength to find her niche in society and to overcome the ordinary and poverty-stricken life she is wading through. Elise will rise above all obstacles and realize her dreams, small or large.