Can someone explain the point of Mary Beth?
Instead of looking for Mary-Beth's purpose to Arthur Morgan — forget he's the 'main character' for a second — first look at women's purpose to a travelling camp such as the Dutch van der Linde Gang.
Dutch's brilliant way of running a travelling gang of outlaws was to disguise it as a travelling band of regular folk, including their very own Reverend, Orville Swanson. Genius! Dutch did have… a god… damn… PLAN.
And they did actually do good turns for people, which is how Dutch accumulated this nice group of men and women around him, over time — the 'gruffest' of whom was Bill Williamson — including the harmless Austrian-born loan shark Leopold Strauss, the very useful Charles Smith, the barely-still-useful Uncle, and elder criminal mentor Hosea Matthews. (In fact, new-comer Micah Bell sticks out like a sore thumb immediately).
Having women around also, to fulfil their gender role of those days by sewing, cleaning, washing the gang's dirty clothes, guard duty, medical care, random labour around camp, and small-time criminal activities, was a major bonus for a band of criminals in that time.
- Karen Jones is their go-to female actor in heists, and clearly still whores for the gang;
- Abigail Roberts did both, before becoming a mother;
- Tilly Jackson and Mary-Beth Gaskill are skilled thieves and pickpockets, and perhaps they had prostituted also ("whores with hearts of gold?") but there's little evidence for that;
- Molly O'Shea is the only woman who is newer to the gang and only there because she's deeply in love, but who serves as nothing more than an extremely depressed, flesh-and-blood sex-doll to an unravelling Dutch van der Linde. (Molly O'Shea is basically Mary Linton if Mary had joined the gang to be with Arthur, but that's another story);
- Miss Susan Grimshaw was all of the above for the gang when she was a younger woman and ended up becoming the Madame of the gang in later years, a more managerial role, while still being hands-on; and finally,
- Jenny Kirk who we never got to know, other than she was a gun-woman and that Lenny was "sweet on her" ('Jenny and Lenny', remember this for later).
- Mrs Sadie Adler joins the gang during the events of the game and doesn't factor into this discussion (but definitely factors into another).
In their hey-day, all of these women gave the 'men of violence' in Dutch's gang TIME to focus on bigger schemes to make MONEY, until Dutch had realised that America would never be the 'Land of Opportunity' for people like him.
This is how the Gang's fortunes peaked with the Blackwater ferry heist, which brought their total gang money to around $250,000, an extraordinary sum of cash for the era. Well enough to realistically get them far away from their American life and start over in Australia (my country, and the most plausible analog to the American West in 1899)*.
In other words, before the upheaval in Blackwater, Dutch's system for the gang, including half a dozen women, worked really well. Each person in the gang, including each woman, was a talented criminal and valuable member of the gang in their own right.
And this might sound crass, but I think if you're going to have women in your big group of Wild West criminals, you need to have more than one or two, and there probably better be a mix of sex-workers and non-sex-workers, to prevent depression and sexual violence, or otherwise you won't have any women at all… (Poor Molly O'Shea is the story's eample of what happens to a woman who is isolated and emotionally neglected.)
In this way, the Dutch van der Linde Gang was perfectly balanced, before the events of Red Dead Redemption 2.
To answer your question: If Mary-Beth wasn't in the game, obviously I wouldn't know what I was missing. But knowing her now, I would miss the conversations we had in camp, and the way she was the only person in the whole group to go on to have a peaceful life and successful career (I don't count being a Reverend a career, but of course it is considered that by some).
Mary-Beth was that person. And you can see it in all your interactions with her. She wasn't going to marry for money like Tilly. She believed in love — of doing good, and of "doing the good thing". I worried a lot for her. And she rightly survived the story.
And finally, I really believe that Mary-Beth was supposed to offer a vision of an "Alternate Life" to Arthur, a more realistic one than Arthur's one-time love, who, it's absolutely no coincidence, is named "Mary". If you find two almost-identical names in a story, you can be certain it is intentional, or one would have been changed.
Arthur Morgan may admire Abigail Roberts, and have slept with her in the past, before John Marston fathered a child with her. But Mary-Beth not only understands Arthur and accepts him, she is also the more generous and life-affirming option between her and Mary Linton, who uses him when it suits her, but finds him completely confounding and utterly disappointing.
The same purpose was fulfilled in the first game, Red Dead Redemption, with Bonnie Marston serving as a vision of a realistic "Alternate Life" for John Marston, if he didn't have responsibility to Jack and Abigail. A life, and a love, that could never be.
Just like Mary-Beth Gaskill and Tuberculosis-Arthur Morgan.
Conclusion: Mary-Beth sure is a great gal, with easily the least blood on her hands of any of the women in the gang.
This was fun to write. Questioning why characters are in a story is not bad to do, at all. I love it.
*Dutch changing "farming in Australia" to "sipping Mai-Thais in Tahiti" in the story represents his loosening grip on reality. But I'm sure you knew that. Feel free to ask me more questions!
PS: Some extra thinking… Notice I didn't have to mention Javier Esquela once? What purpose does he serve other than being in the first game? Eh?
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