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Are We Nearly There?

"I’m invincible, a sexually active, invincible woman behind the wheel.” - Kate Smalley Ellis


Kate Smalley Ellis is a London-based writer. The short story is from The Mechanics’ Institute Review, published in 2015.

Write an analytical essay (900-1200 words) in which you analyse and interpret Kate Smalley Ellis’s short story “Are We Nearly There?”

Part of your essay must focus on characterisation and on the main theme.

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Are we nearly there?

We all grow up at a different pace and in different ways. That can be troublesome for teens, the link between childhood and adulthood, as there often are invisible “guidelines”, which they feel they have to follow. These guidelines are either created by our own or others’ expectations of how we should act and be, and sometimes these expectations push us to do things, we do not want to. The short story “Are We Nearly There?” (2015), by Kate Smalley Ellis, touches this subject. By analysing the short story with focus on characterisation and the main theme of the story, a story about a young teen, for whom the expectations become too overwhelming, is revealed.

The story begins in medias res where the main character, Jen, is driving on a three-lane motorway. The family is in the car with her and they are all going to her grandmother’s house. Although the story is told from Jen’s point of view, we are not always directly informed of her real feelings. This does not necessarily reflect that she is an unreliable narrator, but rather that she herself is not connected with her own feelings. She seems very insecure about herself. She expresses this herself line five: ”Well, he shouldn’t trust me. Neither of them should. There’s no way I should be allowed on this three-lane motorway (…)”. To her parents, mostly her father, she seems ready to drive on the motorway, but she does not feel that way herself. Her family members represent different parts of Jen’s personality: the father represents the confident, calm part, the mother the insecure part and Shelly, the younger sister, the childish part. This is shown through Jen’s reaction to what they say and do. She is calm as she drives while her father sleeps. She becomes insecure, when the mother disturbs her while driving and tells her, what to do. The little sister represents Jen’s childish side in a more abstract way. As Shelly is a child, the parents must take care of her, meanwhile Jen is older and “can take care of herself”. In other words, the sister’s presence is forcing Jen to be more mature, than she perhaps actually is, and in the end the parents must take care of Jen as well, due to her being sick and unable to drive.

Jen is vaguely described through these observations, but to fully understand her feelings and character, we must look into the two plotlines of the story. The story follows two parallel plots: Jen driving the car and the night before, where she had sex with Simon. The driving-plot is used to emphasise and describe Jen’s experience with her first sexual encounter. Jen experiences everything on the motorway as too fast. She is not ready to be on it and she does not feel well, as she is hungover. She did, however, not have the courage to say no to the chance she got to drive, as she had previously asked for it. These same points can be connected to her experience with Simon. The quote line 106-107 supports this interpretation of the parallel:” ‘The roundabout will come up unexpectedly.’ Like Simon’s cock. He was ready before I’d even thought about it.”. She was extremely drunk, when he had sex with her, and she describes the experience as “okay” and says that he merely “slipped in and out”. It is indicated, that she neither said yes or no - probably due to her being drunk, but probably also because she did not dare to say no. Here the parallel between the two experiences becomes clear. She did not feel ready for any of them, but due to expectations, she did not dare to say no, which, in both cases, ends up giving her a bad experience.

Both of these experiences mark typical, important stages in the progress of going from being a child to being an adult. This relates to the main theme of the story: growing up. Jen is, assumingly, the oldest child in the family. She has a younger sister, and therefore possesses the “older sister”-role, with which there comes responsibility. She cannot stay a child. As mentioned in the beginning, everyone grows up at a different pace. In the beginning, she drives in the speed lane. Not because she wants to, but because that is where everyone else is driving. This can be interpreted as a symbol for the expectations, which she feels she must live in accordance with: she must follow what everyone else does. Maybe she felt the same way about sex – it is what people my age normally do, so I should too. She tries to convince herself, that she is an adult now, and that she can handle anything. She expresses this line 45: ”I’m invincible, a sexually active, invincible woman behind the wheel.”. In the end, however, everything becomes too much and she throws up. Her throwing up is most likely due to the combination of her hangover, the stress of driving on the motorway and the stress of remembering the bad experience with Simon.

Put together, the story is about a young teen between childhood and adulthood. She experiences important events that typically mark the way into adulthood, which she is not fully ready to enter. This makes everything culminate in her head, making her sick. She feels very insecure, which results in her doing what she thinks is expected of her, but ultimately makes her trip over her own feet. We should follow our own pace and not let us be controlled by invisible strings that may or may not fit us. Jen will eventually find her way into adulthood. She is nearly there, but not yet.

Opgaven er skrevet til skriftlig eksamen på Morsø Gymnasium den 19. maj 2017, og gengives her i fuld længde med elevens accept.