On their way home from school, Sophie informs her friend Jansie that one day she will own a boutique. Skeptical, Jansie tells Sophie that she would need money, but Sophie is undeterred. She says she’ll be a manager first, which Jansie finds implausible, but Sophie is confident that her natural talent will land her “the most amazing shop this city’s ever seen.”
The first thing readers learn about Sophie is her desire for a better future through a glamorous (though unrealistic) career. And although readers understand that it’s unlikely that her dreams will become reality, it’s also clear that she has a determined spirit and an unwillingness to back away from her dreams. Sophie’s dreams are not ignorant of reality—they seem to exist in defiance of a reality that Jansie is trying to assert.
Jansie, who knows that both she and Sophie are destined to work at the biscuit factory, feels sad when Sophie talks like this, and she asks Sophie to “be sensible,” since shop work isn’t lucrative and Sophie’s father would never allow it. Sophie replies that maybe she will be an actress, since there’s “real money in that.” She muses that she could have a boutique or be a fashion designer on the side, since actresses don’t work full time.
The two girls clearly come from a working-class background, and it’s important to Sophie’s family that she make an income and contribute to their bills. This is a practical reason for Sophie not to pursue her dreams, which are financially riskier than working at the biscuit factory. While Jansie appears to have accepted this depressing reality, Sophie continues to push back. Deciding to become a famous actress for money makes Sophie seem delusional.
Walking into her home, Sophie announces that if she ever comes into money, she will buy a boutique. Her father replies that, if she had money, she would “buy us a blessed decent house to live in, thank you very much.” Sophie’s little brother Derek quips that Sophie “thinks money grows on trees,” and their mother sighs. Sophie watches her mother “stooped over the sink,” noticing the “incongruity” between the “delicate bow” on her apron strings and her “crooked back.” The “small room” is “cluttered” with her “heavy-breathing” father and the “dirty washing piled up in the corner.” Feeling a “tightening in her throat,” Sophie goes to find her older brother, Geoff.
Like Jansie, Sophie’s family shuts down her dreams, underscoring that Sophie’s ambitions are not a result of her not being exposed to the practical realities of her situation—she is actively in defiance of those who want to rein her in. Sophie appears most miserable when considering her mother’s life, which begins to show that Sophie has no positive female role models. She cannot imagine a life as an adult woman that she would want to live, so she falls into clichés of adult femininity: being an actress or a fashion designer, for instance.
Geoff, an “apprentice mechanic,” is in the next room working on a part of his motorcycle. Every day he travels to the “far side of town” for work, and—since he is “almost grown up”—Sophie suspects that there are parts of his life he doesn’t tell her about. In fact, he rarely speaks at all, and Sophie is “jealous of his silence.” When he isn’t speaking, it seems as though he is “away somewhere…she had never been,” places that fascinate Sophie because they are “out of reach” to her.
Geoff seems to have the freedom that Sophie desires. While Sophie is clearly envious, Geoff does not seem aware of his sister’s admiration, further showing her isolation from her family. Geoff is also notably masculine in both his interests and lack of communication, seeming to be a strong but silent type. The fact that Sophie admires Geoff but chafes at the restricted lives that Jansie and Sophie’s mother accept suggests that freedom is a quality Sophie associates with men, not women.
Sophie also imagines that Geoff is secretly friends with “exotic, interesting people,” although she concedes that he is “quiet” and doesn’t “make new friends easily.” Still, she longs for Geoff to like her enough to “take her with him.” She is conscious of a “vast world out there waiting for her,” and she knows that she will feel at home there. In her mind, she sees herself riding behind Geoff on his motorcycle with him wearing “shining black leathers” and her “a yellow dress with a kind of cape.” She imagines applause as “the world [rises] to greet them.”
Sophie uses her vivid imagination to concoct a fantasy of her brother as a charismatic well-dressed savior. She is projecting a number of her desires (freedom, fame, aesthetics) onto him, and her acknowledgement that he doesn’t make new friends easily hints that she might be misunderstanding Geoff in the same way her family misunderstands her. It’s notable that Sophie imagines Geoff saving her rather than her saving herself: she is so conditioned to understand women as helpless and less free than men that, even in her fantasies, a man has to help her.
As Geoff works on the motorcycle, Sophie says “I met Danny Casey.” Geoff does not believe her, and then he asks if she has told their father. This upsets Sophie, because she wants Geoff to understand that he is “the first” to hear her secrets. She claims that she met Danny Casey while out shopping, and when Geoff asks what he looked like, Sophie notes that he has “gentle eyes” and is “not as tall as you’d think.”
In an attempt to bond with Geoff, Sophie invents a secret to share with him: that she met his favorite football player. She believes this will connect them in two ways, first by fostering a closeness based on sharing secrets, and second by suggesting that Danny Casey finds Sophie worthwhile, thereby encouraging Geoff himself to find Sophie worthwhile. It is notable that she attributes traditionally feminine characteristics to Danny, making him more like herself.
In the living room, Geoff tells their father about Sophie meeting Danny Casey. Their father turns his “thick neck” to look at Sophie with “disdain.” He and Geoff argue about how good at football Danny Casey is (with her father suggesting that Casey is too young to play professionally) when Sophie interjects that Danny Casey is going to “buy a shop.” Grimacing, Sophie’s father asks if this is another of her “wild stories,” and Geoff defends her. Their father tells Sophie that someday she is going to “talk [herself] into a load of trouble,” and he says that Geoff doesn’t believe her, “though he’d like to.”
Once their father is made aware of the Danny Casey story he reacts with cruelty towards both children, showing how difficult it must be to grow up in that household. Sophie brings up Danny Casey wanting to buy a shop, which ties back into her boutique idea. If her family saw Danny Casey as a successful shop owner, then Sophie’s dreams may seem less outrageous and foolish and more worthy of respect.
In Geoff’s bedroom, which is full of posters of Danny Casey, Sophie swears Geoff to secrecy about something, saying that their dad would “murder” her. Geoff protests that he would only murder Sophie if he believed her, and Danny Casey “must have strings of girls.” Sophie protests that Danny Casey “isn’t like that”—he’s “quiet,” and Sophie was the one who approached him. She tells Geoff that she asked if he was Danny Casey and he looked surprised, and then when she asked for an autograph, they couldn’t find a pen, so they talked about clothes for a while. She said he seemed “lonely” being so far from Ireland, and he asked if she would meet him next week to get the autograph.
Sophie clearly wants to impress and be liked by her older brother, as she tries to win his favor by sharing her “secrets” and convincing him that a hero of his found her interesting enough to interact with. She again is making Danny seem like herself by bringing up feelings of loneliness (which she likely struggles with herself) and by making their conversation about fashion: the Danny Casey story is just a way for her to communicate her wants and needs to her family.
“You do believe me now, don’t you?” Sophie asks Geoff. She watches him put on a “shiny and shapeless” jacket and wishes to herself that he paid attention to his looks and cared about clothes. He tells her that the story is the “unlikeliest thing he ever heard.”
Sophie appears to be desperate for her brother’s approval, and unfortunately does not receive it. Rather, like the rest of her family, Geoff disbelieves her. It’s notable here that Geoff’s clothes aren’t fashionable: in Sophie’s previous fantasy of Geoff whisking her away on his motorcycle, his clothes are described as being chic, but that is not Geoff’s reality. This indicates that Sophie is not seeing Geoff for who he is.
On Saturday, Sophie’s whole family attends a football match, and their team wins with Danny Casey scoring the final goal. Sophie “glow[s] with pride” and Geoff is “ecstatic.” Their father goes to the pub to celebrate.
It seems as though the only time everyone in the family is happy or even content is when Danny Casey is playing well and their team wins. This makes it more understandable why Sophie would grasp onto Danny Casey as a way to win her family’s approval: they do not appear happy or content with anyone or anything else.
The following week, Jansie asks Sophie about meeting Danny Casey, and Sophie is “startled” and dismayed. This is a “Geoff thing, not a Jansie thing,” she thinks, cursing Geoff for sharing what was meant to be “something special just between them” with Jansie, who gossips to the whole neighborhood. Sophie says that it’s a secret, since she wants to keep it from her dad. When Jansie says she would think Sophie’s father would be pleased, Sophie realizes that Geoff didn’t tell Jansie about the date, and she is relieved, thinking that Geoff “believe[s] in her after all” and that “some things might be sacred.” Jansie says she wishes she had been there to meet Danny Casey, but Sophie dismisses it as a “little thing, really.”
To her disappointment, Sophie learns that her tale of Danny Casey has spread to her friend Jansie. She clearly thinks of her story as meant for Geoff, and not her friend. This could be related to gender, as Jansie is presented in a quite feminine manner as compared to Geoff. Sophie’s discomfort may also be due to the Danny Casey story being meant to bring her closer to her brother and her family. This makes Jansie’s opinion irrelevant and explains why Sophie minimizes the story instead of adding more details like she did with her brother.
After dark, Sophie walks by the canal to “a wooden bench beneath a solitary elm where lovers sometimes came.” She thinks that it’s the “perfect place” for a date, and she knows that Danny Casey would approve. While she waits, she imagines him appearing, and “some time elapse[s]” before she begins to entertain the possibility of him not coming.
Sophie, clouded with thoughts of gaining approval from a surrogate authority figure, waits for Danny Casey for some time before acknowledging he may not arrive. The fact that she seems to expect him to show up (even though she invented their date in the first place) paints her as delusional to a troubling extent. This is no longer mere escapism: she’s out in the world expecting her fantasy to come true.
Sophie wishes fervently that Danny Casey would come, but she feels “pangs of doubt.” She remembers Geoff telling her that Danny Casey “would never come” and “how none of them believed me when I told them.” Sophie wonders what she’ll tell them if Danny Casey doesn’t come. Even though “we know how it was, Danny and me,” Sophie still becomes “despondent” at knowing that she’ll “never be able to show them they’re wrong to doubt me.”
In this crucial passage, Sophie reacts to realizing that Danny Casey won’t come. Instead of being distressed that she won’t have a romance with a famous man, Sophie’s distress centers on her family: she’s distraught that she won’t be able to tell them about her date and thereby earn their respect. Clearly, this fantasy was not about romantic fulfillment for her—it was about showing her family that she is worthy of respect and admiration.
Sophie is sad, which is a “hard burden to carry.” She sits waiting and “knowing he won’t come,” and she “can see the future”: her family will doubt her, as “they always have,” so she will have to “hold up [her] head remembering how it was.” She imagines the “slow walk home” and Geoff’s “disappointed face” when she tells him Danny Casey didn’t come. He’ll slam the door, but Sophie will tell herself that she and Danny “know how it was.”
As Sophie imagines the scorn from her family she will likely endure when she gets home, she attempts to comfort herself by retreating back into fantasy, imagining Danny’s approval as a way to brace herself for her family’s rejection. Sophie’s family’s “doubt” of her seems to be what bothers her the most: she wants them to trust her and think of her as capable and powerful, but she cannot figure out how to convince them of this.
Walking home, Sophie climbs “crumbling steps” and notices her dad’s bike propped against a wall by the pub. She’s glad that he won’t be there when she arrives home.
The one piece of reality Sophie can use to comfort herself is that her father will not be home for her to face. For Sophie, it is easier to deal with a father drunk at a pub than one who actually interacts with her, which shows how bleak her real life is. It’s no wonder that Sophie retreats into fantasy so often.
Sophie pictures herself meeting Danny Casey at the shops again. She asks him for an autograph, and she notices that his eyes are “on the same level” as her own, he smiles “shyly,” and his eyes are “gentle, almost afraid.” Danny Casey runs his eyes over Sophie and she looks at him, “breathless.” After he’s gone, she stands in the store remembering him: he’s “No taller than you. No bolder than you. The prodigy. The innocent genius.” She remembers the previous Saturday as he maneuvered the ball into the goal to an “eruption of exultant approbation.”
Sophie retreats one last time into the Danny Casey fantasy. Unable to cope with the sadness and disappointment in her life, she projects herself onto the footballer, imagining qualities (shy, gentle, “innocent genius” who is no greater than herself) that could apply to her, too. She thinks back to his goal in the game that made her family so happy, as it seems to be the only thing that would garner their approval and celebration. Even in her vivid imagination, there is no room for her to be accepted for who she is, and no path to gain her family’s admiration—she imagines herself as Danny Casey because it seems like the only way to envision pleasing them.