In “Going Places,” teenaged Sophie is full of unrealistic dreams for her future. She talks of wanting to open a boutique or become an actress, and—most importantly—she tells her brother Geoff that she has met famous footballer Danny Casey and that the two have planned a date. While her brother and father are skeptical that she has met Danny Casey, and her best friend Jansie is constantly pulling her back to earth about her dreams for the future, Sophie maintains a commitment to her fantasies, believing in them to the extent that she waits for Danny Casey one night and feels heartbroken when he never arrives. This heartbreak is a looming danger of Sophie’s refusal to live in reality: presumably, at some point, she will become adult enough to realize that her dreams won’t come true. However, Barton does not simply depict fantasy as a prelude to disappointment. For Sophie, a lonely and ambitious girl from a troubled working-class family, fantasy is perhaps the only way not to be broken by her circumstances.
From the beginning, Barton depicts Sophie as immersed in fantasy and impervious to the reality of her situation. For example, the story’s opening line is Sophie’s proclamation that she will someday own a boutique—a dream that she maintains, even as her pragmatic friend Jansie attempts to bring her back to earth. When Jansie says that owning a boutique requires money, Sophie responds that she’ll start as manager, but Jansie notes that nobody would make Sophie manager without experience and that shop work doesn’t pay enough anyway. In response, Sophie says that she’ll become an actress or a fashion designer on the side in order to support her boutique, brushing off all of Jansie’s practical concerns. Jansie, who knows that “they were both earmarked for the biscuit factory,” urges Sophie to “be sensible”—a sentiment that Sophie’s family shares, as her father, her little brother Derek, and her mother all seem exasperated by Sophie’s talk of wealth when she comes home. From this opening, it’s clear that Sophie isn’t sheltered from practical concerns—in fact, almost everyone in her life seems committed to making her abandon her unrealistic dreams. Sophie’s fantasies, then, seem less like naïve pipe dreams here, and more like a deliberate commitment to resisting a life she doesn’t want.
Barton shows the danger of living in a fantasy world when Sophie falls prey to her own imagined tale of meeting her family’s football hero, Danny Casey. In what might be a ploy to impress her brother Geoff (who she imagines has an exciting life that he doesn’t share with her), Sophie tells him that she met Danny Casey at the store. In response to his skepticism, Sophie does not abandon her tale and instead adds more detail to the fantasy and raises the stakes by claiming that he asked her on a date. As she adds detail, she seems herself to believe the fantasy, feeling proud the following Saturday when Danny Casey scores a goal, as though she does actually know him. This belief in her own fantasy crests when Sophie finds herself on “a wooden bench beneath a solitary elm where lovers sometimes came” waiting for Danny. While waiting, she imagines her excitement at seeing him emerge from the canal, and Barton writes that “not until some time had elapsed did she begin balancing against this the idea of his not coming.” The level of Sophie’s delusion is startling. She not only finds herself physically waiting for a date she has invented (one which she seems genuinely to believe will happen), but also she is heartbroken when he doesn’t arrive, and still doesn’t acknowledge reality even then (she comforts herself by telling herself “we know how it was…Danny and me”). This is a moment in which her fantasy seems dangerous and pathological, either an emotional disturbance or an imaginative excess that has now crossed the line from harmless to negatively affecting her life.
However, as Sophie leaves the bench where she has been waiting, she notices the bleak reality around her and anticipates the bleak reality that awaits her at home, which propels her back into her fantasies. In this way, Barton suggests that the fantasies—while potentially harmful—also help Sophie to bear her life. For example, once she realizes that Danny isn’t coming, Sophie immediately thinks of how horrible it will be to tell her family, noting that they will “doubt me, as they have always doubted me, but I will have to hold up my head remembering how it was.” From this, readers see just how much it hurts Sophie that her family doesn’t take her seriously and how much effort it requires to maintain her dignity and spirit in the face of their cruelty. Furthermore, Barton describes Sophie climbing “crumbling steps” and noticing her father’s bike outside the pub. While this bleak detail indicates that her father is (as is often the case) out drinking, Sophie is actually relieved because it means she won’t have to face him at home. On this horrible night, her family is not a source of comfort, but rather of torment. In the moment of seeing her father’s bike, Sophie retreats into one last reverie, which ends the story: imagining meeting Danny Casey again, and then remembering him playing football the Saturday before. In these fantasies, Sophie feels happy and triumphant: his eyes “shimmer” and she is “breathless” as he looks at her, and as he scores his goal, she imagines the crowd’s “thunderous eruption of exultant approbation.”
Throughout the story, these moments of fantasy are when Sophie feels happiest and most herself. While Sophie’s disappointment over Danny Casey failing to appear perhaps foreshadows more devastating disappointments to come, the ending paints Sophie’s reveries as a (likely temporary) way to survive a difficult life that is bent on constricting her. In this way, Barton shows fantasy and imagination to be powerful tools, even if they cannot change reality.
Fantasy vs. Reality ThemeTracker
Fantasy vs. Reality 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.’
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.