Going Places

by

A.R. Barton

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Limitations of Gender Roles Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Fantasy vs. Reality Theme Icon
Family vs. Individuality Theme Icon
Class vs. Ambition Theme Icon
Limitations of Gender Roles Theme Icon
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Limitations of Gender Roles Theme Icon

In “Going Places,” the men and women fit rigidly within gendered expectations. Sophie’s father is the family’s breadwinner, while her mother appears to be in charge of household duties. As for Sophie’s generation, her brother Geoff (a mechanic who loves football) is associated with traditionally masculine objects and pursuits, while her friend Jansie (a known gossip who is destined for a life making biscuits) is more traditionally feminine. Sophie is unique in displaying both feminine and masculine characteristics, as she has interests in fashion and acting, but she is ambitious and independent. Unfortunately, her inability to identify a satisfying model of womanhood to which she can aspire leaves her adrift and disappointed, projecting her own ambitions onto a man, Danny Casey, in whom her dreams seem more at home. This shows how restrictive rigid gender roles are, even to the most imaginative and defiant of people.

Throughout her life, Sophie has been exposed only to traditional gender roles. Her father is “grimy” due to his work outside of the home, and he appears to fit well within the masculine archetypes of “distant father” and “angry drunk.” While Sophie does not like her father, she still wants to impress him, which acknowledges his power and suggests a desire for male validation. Sophie also associates her brother Geoff—a sports-obsessed mechanic—with traditionally masculine items, activities, and concepts. When she fantasizes of him helping her escape her dreary life, he is on a motorcycle wearing “shining black leathers.” It’s clear that she associates him with a freedom she assumes he is afforded due to his gender, as she imagines him being able to go “places beyond in the surrounding city” and meet “exotic, interesting people.”

By contrast, the women in Sophie’s life seem restricted and embittered. Barton depicts Sophie’s mother as “stooped over the sink” with her “crooked back,” keeping house for her “heavy-breathing” husband with the “dirty washing piled up in the corner.” She appears resigned, submissive, and docile, which are all traditionally feminine traits. As the only adult woman in the story, Sophie’s mother paints a bleak picture of femininity. And while Barton suggests that the next generation of women might have slightly more freedom (Sophie and Jansie are expected to work outside the home, unlike Sophie’s mother), Jansie is also gendered strictly female and seems resigned to her life and depressed. Sophie points out that Jansie is “nosey” and that providing her with information means “the whole neighbourhood would get to know it,” implying that Jansie is a gossip, which is a traditionally feminine archetype. Readers also learn that her future job will be making biscuits at the factory, which is slightly less traditional than cooking at home, but not much. However, that is not to say that Jansie is optimistic about her fate; in fact, she is “melancholy” about Sophie’s ambitious talk of shop-owning, because to her it’s only a reminder of a life she will never have.

Since Sophie has trouble seeing herself in either a feminine or masculine role, she struggles to imagine her own future. Sophie’s reaction to seeing her mother working in the kitchen is to feel a “tightening in her throat” and leave the room, which shows how viscerally repellent her mother’s life is to her. She also refuses to let Jansie bring her back to earth about her likely future at the biscuit factory, showing her unwillingness to resign herself to even a less-extreme female fate. However, as a woman, Sophie can’t imagine herself in the masculine roles she clearly admires. Her own fantasies of power and independence are exaggeratedly feminine: becoming an actress or fashion designer. Furthermore, when she pictures herself running away with Geoff, he is the one driving the motorcycle while she rides along in an extravagant, fashionable dress and cape, and she imagines Danny Casey rescuing her from drudgery by taking her on a date. In both of these scenarios, Sophie is putting herself in the role of the damsel in distress, which suggests a gendered limitation on her imagination. She wants to have the freedom of a man, but she cannot imagine seizing it for herself—instead, a man must give it to her. This is unsurprising, since she has no female role models besides her mother, whose femininity she actively rejects.

The gendered limitations on Sophie’s imagination are clearest in her Danny Casey fantasy. While at first glance, Sophie’s fantasy of dating a celebrity may seem stereotypically feminine, it soon becomes clear that she is not imagining herself as his date, but rather as him. In describing Danny Casey, she feminizes him to make him seem more like her, commenting on his “gentle eyes” and noting that he is “not as tall as you’d think” and has a “soft melodious voice.” She later makes the parallel between herself and Danny Casey more explicit, saying to herself that he is “No taller than you. No bolder than you. A prodigy,” which suggests that she is seeing Danny as being just like her in order to imagine the possibility of herself being successful and admired like Danny. Significantly, this fantasy is not meant for her own satisfaction—she is also using it to try to gain power and respect from the men in her life. This fantasy, surrounding a footballer her brother adores, is meant to impress him and to increase her own value in his eyes. She also projects her own ambition onto Danny Casey, telling her brother and father that Danny wants to open a boutique, which suggests that she believes her family might respect her own ambition more if it is shared by a man they admire.

At the end of the story, when the possibility of winning her family’s admiration through Danny Casey has dissipated, Sophie retreats into one last fantasy: she visualizes Danny sinking the ball “crisply into the goal” to “exultant approbation” from the crowd. Despite her impressive creativity and vocabulary, she is living in a society so restrictive she cannot even imagine success for herself in her own mind. Clearly, Sophie herself wants to be powerful, successful, and celebrated like Danny Casey, but the world she lives in is so restrictive to women that, at the story’s end, she cannot even imagine her own desires for herself—she imagines them for a man instead.

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Limitations of Gender Roles ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Limitations of Gender Roles appears in each chapter of Going Places. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Limitations of Gender Roles Quotes in Going Places

Below you will find the important quotes in Going Places related to the theme of Limitations of Gender Roles.
Going Places Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Sophie, Sophie’s Father, Mother
Related Symbols: The Bow
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis: