In “Going Places,” Sophie’s ambition and personality are continually at odds with her family’s expectations of her. While Sophie dreams of owning a boutique or becoming an actress, her family members mock and reject her goals, treating her without warmth, care, or understanding. Throughout the story, however, Sophie remains fixated on living the life she fantasizes about and does not cave to her family’s attempts to make her more like them. She nonetheless fails to bring them around to her way of thinking—she neither proves herself to them nor earns their respect. By showing Sophie trapped in an unresolvable conflict between who she feels she is and who her family wants her to be, Barton shows the crushing weight of situations in which being loved and accepted by family is at odds with individual expression and fulfillment.
Sophie feels distinctly isolated at home, as her attempts express herself provoke her family’s mockery and dismissal. This is shown quite clearly with her father, a primary source for her feelings of isolation. He speaks harshly to Sophie, accusing her of telling “wild stories” or “aggressively” saying that, “One of these days you’re going to talk yourself into a load of trouble.” Sophie takes his words seriously, as she cautions her older brother Geoff that their father would “murder” her if he found out about her alleged meeting with Danny Casey, and she later expresses fear of her father instigating a “right old row.” Sophie does not feel accepted and cared for by her father; on the contrary, she believes any further signs of her whimsical personality will result in him erupting into physical violence. Sophie’s interactions with her mother and Derek, her younger brother, appear to follow a similar pattern. When made aware of her ambitions, Derek chastises her about financial practicalities, while her mother lets out an exasperated sigh. Rather than validating Sophie’s individuality, her family ridicules or passive aggressively ignores her. It’s no wonder, then, that Sophie is uncomfortable in her home; at the sight of her father and her mother in the kitchen, Sophie experiences “a tightening in her throat” and quickly leaves them to find Geoff. Later, she’s happy to notice her father’s bicycle propped outside a pub, indicating he won’t be at the house to mock her when she returns from her failed “date” with Danny Casey. Sophie has clearly resigned herself to her parents and little brother being unable or unwilling to foster her individuality.
Despite this invalidation, Sophie clearly still longs for a sense of connection with her family. She holds out hope that Geoff, the only family member who has not explicitly rejected her, will become her ally, and perhaps even radically change her life for the better. Initially, Sophie imagines that Geoff has an exciting life that he keeps secret from her, a world that he might one day invite her into, thereby rescuing her. However, Sophie’s vision of Geoff seems at odds with who he really is. In her fantasy, Geoff is wearing “shining black leathers,” but Sophie later admits that Geoff is not fashionable—she only “wish[es] he cared more about clothes.” Furthermore, while she imagines that he knows “exotic, interesting people” to whom he might introduce her, she concedes that he is “quiet and didn’t make new friends easily.” This dissonance between the Geoff of her vision and the real Geoff suggests that Sophie might be projecting her own desires onto her brother, rather than seeing him for who he is. This mirrors the way her family treats her and undermines her hopes for finding an ally in the family.
Sophie continues to project her needs onto Geoff by creating a fantasy about Danny Casey, the star whose photographs adorn her brother’s room. This fantasy is an attempt to get closer to her brother by emphasizing a shared interest—and by creating a story in which someone Geoff respects thinks that Sophie is worth spending time with and knowing. This, in turn, is something Sophie clearly wants all of her family members to feel. Indeed, Sophie’s story is never really about Danny Casey—rather, it’s her attempt to prove to her family that she as an individual has merit. Sophie initially approaches the meeting place with naïve optimism, thinking that it is “the perfect place” and “she knew he would approve.” Barton is notably ambiguous here, providing the reader with a pronoun rather than a name and leaving room for the possibility that it is not necessarily Casey’s approval she is seeking, but rather that of her brothers and father. It soon becomes clear that she is, in fact, more concerned with the opinions of her family than she is with Casey’s arrival, as she thinks back to “Geoff saying he would never come, and how none of them believed me.” Finally, after passing a point of “resignation” that Casey won’t be coming, she turns to “sadness,” acknowledging that “she can see the future” and her family will likely lord this over her for years to come: “they of course will doubt me, as they have always doubted me.” She sees that her plan to prove her worth has failed, and that her family will continue to consider the traits that make her an individual to be character flaws.
Ultimately, Sophie proves unable to create a world, even in her own head, in which she receives praise and acceptance from her family. Instead, she is only able to project her needs onto Danny Casey himself. In her fantasy, she asks for Danny Casey’s autograph, but neither of them “have a pen”—leading her to muse that “my brothers will be very sorry.” Even the fantasy version of herself, it seems, is unable to live up to her family’s expectations. Barton further shows that Sophie is projecting herself and her needs onto Casey by having her emphasize to her father that Casey is planning to “buy a shop”—that is, to pursue the same ambition Sophie set for herself at the beginning of the story. As she loses herself entirely in fantasy at the end of the story, Sophie imagines Danny “ghost past the lumbering defenders” as the crowd holds its breath and then erupts in “exultant approbation” over his athletic success. Clearly, this is Sophie’s dream for herself, and Danny has been a way to imagine her own unimaginable future all along.
Family vs. Individuality ThemeTracker
Family vs. Individuality Quotes in Going Places
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.
She was conscious of a vast world out there waiting for her and she knew instinctively that she would feel as at home there as in the city which had always been her home. It expectantly awaited her arrival. She saw herself riding there behind Geoff. He wore new, shining black leathers and she a yellow dress with a kind of cape that flew out behind.
Her father grimaced. “Where’d you hear that?”…He muttered something inaudible and dragged himself round in his chair. “This another of your wild stories?”… “One of these days you’re going to talk yourself into a load of trouble,” her father said aggressively.
There was a wooden bench beneath a solitary elm where lovers sometimes came. She sat down to wait. It was the perfect place, she had always thought so, for a meeting of this kind. For those who wished not to be observed. She knew he would approve.
I remember Geoff saying he would never come, and how none of them believed me when I told them. I wonder what will I do, what can I tell them now if he doesn’t come? But we know how it was, Danny and me — that’s the main thing. How can you help what people choose to believe? But all the same, it makes me despondent, this knowing I’ll never be able to show them they’re wrong to doubt me.
“Excuse me, but aren’t you Danny Casey?”
Coming through the arcade she pictured him again outside Royce’s.
He turns, reddening slightly. “Yes, that’s right.”
“I watch you every week, with my dad and my brothers. We think you’re great.”
No taller than you. No bolder than you. The prodigy. The innocent genius. The great Danny Casey.
And she saw it all again, last Saturday — saw him ghost past the lumbering defenders, heard the fifty thousand catch their breath as he hovered momentarily over the ball, and then the explosion of sound as he struck it crisply into the goal, the sudden thunderous eruption of exultant approbation.