Each of the characters in “Going Places” reacts differently to being poor: Sophie’s father seems to drink and be cruel, her mother seems resigned and depressed, and her little brother, Derek, is already old enough to roll his eyes at Sophie and tell her that money doesn’t grow on trees. Sophie, meanwhile, responds to her restrictive circumstances by imagining opening a boutique or becoming an actress. Though these ambitions help propel her through the world with some semblance of optimism, her family and friends dismiss her ambitions altogether. To some extent, this is out of simple unkindness, but the real reason that Sophie’s dreams seem so wild to those around her is that she is working class. For even a middle-class family, becoming a shop owner or manager would presumably not be out of the question, but Sophie’s dreams are categorically shut down by others because they’re so alien to their class background. Through this, Barton illustrates the immense weight and reach of class hierarchy—which is so rigid and seemingly impassable that those of Sophie’s class can’t imagine, let alone hope for, a better life.
When Sophie attempts to share her fantasies of future jobs with others, she is quickly rejected. Upon declaring that she wants to open—or even just be a manager of—a boutique, her friend Jansie peppers her with pragmatic concerns (opening a shop “takes money” and “They wouldn’t make you manager straight off”). Even her little brother makes fun of this fantasy: “She thinks money grows on trees, don’t she, Dad?” Her father seems almost primed to cut down Sophie’s “wild stories” and he threatens that she will “talk [her]self into a load of trouble.” Ambitions for a life beyond that of a factory worker are apparently so unrealistic as to be laughable in Sophie’s world, subtly underscoring the incredible difficulty of overcoming poverty.
Sophie’s refusal to accept her poverty, meanwhile, appears not just to perplex, but to anger those around her. While bitter resignation may help Sophie’s family and friends get through the day, Sophie’s vivid imagination is a reminder of the things they will never have, and spending any time dwelling on such things is perhaps too painful to handle. Jansie, for instance, wants Sophie to stop fantasizing because Jansie has already accepted the reality of the situation—that is, that they are both “earmarked for the biscuit factory.” Trying to imagine anything else makes Jansie “melancholy,” suggesting her awareness that, for people of their background, grander aspirations are impossible. When Sophie’s father hears of the Danny Casey story, he looks at her in disdain and grimaces at her words. Exposure to his child’s creativity results in him behaving as though he has been wounded, showing this has somehow hit a nerve. That he reacts “aggressively” towards her suggests that he views Sophie’s dreams as an affront to his own life and choices.
The title of “Going Places” can be read ironically, as its characters are not going anywhere. Instead, Barton illustrates that they are so trapped by their socio-economic circumstances that they cannot even imagine a better future. In a class system with so few opportunities for upward mobility, Sophie’s relatively harmless penchant for, essentially, going places in her head to escape her bleak reality is received with utter disdain by those around her. Being confronted with the thought of something better, no matter how unlikely, is simply a reminder of their limitations.
Class vs. Ambition ThemeTracker
Class vs. Ambition Quotes in Going Places
“I’ll be like Mary Quant,” Sophie said. “I’ll be a natural. They’ll see it from the start. I’ll have the most amazing shop this city’s ever seen.’
Their mother sighed.
Sophie watched her back stooped over the sink and wondered at the incongruity of the delicate bow which fastened her apron strings. The delicate-seeming bow and the crooked back. The evening had already blacked in the windows and the small room was steamy from the stove and cluttered with the heavy-breathing man in his vest at the table and the dirty washing piled up in the corner. Sophie felt a tightening in her throat.