In Kevin Wilson’s short story “Go, Fight, Win” in Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, he delves into the topic of acceptance and the extent people will go to feel accepted. The story’s main focus is on the life of a young sixteen-year-old girl named Penny. Due to her parents divorce, Penny had to move to a new town and start over completely. However, Penny is the epitome of a socially awkward person. She hardly communicates with people, including her own mother, and prefers solitude over company.
She avoids befriending her cheerleading team, going out to socialize by making excuses, and she does not even know how to communicate with her mother. When the twelve-yearold boy storms into her life, she is very taken by him, and even falls in love with the boy, despite how controversial the topic of dating someone with a significant age gap is. The relationship between the teens as the story progress is believed to be dangerous in the long-run. In “Go, Fight, Win”, Wilson explores the theme of acceptance by implying that people will do anything to be accepted, especially if that means taking drastic measures.
Wilson starts off the story by isolating the main character, Penny, from everyone. Penny is seen to be extremely disconnected from people. When she moves into the new town, she does not seem to be particularly keen on forming bonds with individuals so easily. In the beginning, Penny does not wish to be involved in any activities concerning people. The only reason why she joins the cheerleading squad was because her mother nagged her and continued to push her towards auditioning for the team. Her mom even says, “You’re the kind of pretty that would benefit from being a cheerleader, you know? (130).
She is stressing that Penny needs to be part of a team and become recognizable to make friends, fully knowing that Penny is incapable of making friends all on her own. Wilson even reveals that Penny’s mother only highlights her physical features instead of her personality was because she thought that “Penny was weird, too quiet, and no one else was going to give her a chance unless she had something else going for her” (130). Thus, Penny joins the cheerleading team only to satisfy her mother hoping that maybe she would be accepted by her own parent figure for following instructions.
However, Wilson makes Penny feel isolated because her mother forces her to join the team and exert a fake personality to make friends instead of accepting her for who she is. In addition to Penny having a difficult time forming deep and meaningful relationships with people, it needs to be reiterated that this does not exclude her mother. There was no mention of Penny’s father, Wilson shows that the mother and daughter do not know how to communicate effectively. Her mother tries her best and puts in the effort to form a connection with her daughter but cannot. During dinner, she attempts to make small talks with Penny about her day.
Albeit the mom makes uncomfortable conversations saying things like, “It took him forever to remember why he might have all this blood in his pee” (136). Penny did not know how to respond and opted to stay silent for the rest of the meal until it was over. Wilson also tries to show how Penny’s mother truly knows how important it is to establish relationships with people, but fails to connect with her own daughter. However, the mom also has issues connecting emotionally Penny because she was going through a divorce at the time, and she fails to be a good role model for the daughter.
Yet she makes the situation even worse as she tries harder but pushes Penny to exert a fake persona to make friends. Furthermore, Penny does not make any friends despite being in the cheerleading team. Wilson writes to exemplify Penny’s avoidance, “And even on the other days, she had to sit with the rest of the cheerleaders at their special table…. Penny chewed each bite slowly just to avoid having to talk” (131). Penny did not feel like she belonged in the cheerleading squad, and she felt that she made it known she was uncomfortable.
However, while she appears to not be interested in forming relationships with people at all, it is because she does not know how to. So when the cheerleaders begin to praise Penny for throwing a water bottle at the school’s rival cheerleading team, “Penny still couldn’t understand what had happened, felt sick to her stomach, but she was smiling, happy to have made someone else happy” (141). She experiences happiness and acceptance with the cheearleading team in that moment, but she still does not form a deep and enriching bond with the teammates.
Wilson writes about her feelings of happiness correlating with acceptance because she longs to be accepted by people for who she truly is. In the moment, the cheerleaders saw Penny for herself and not her pretending to be happy or practicing rehearsed cheers. However, she still did not make a deep connection. That all changes when she meets the twelve-yearold boy. Penny’s life changes when the twelve-year-old boy becomes a part of her life. Wilson does not give the boy a name, but he does describe how the preteen is taken with Penny.
The boy appears to be obsessed with Penny rather than infatuated. When he first tries to talk to her, he digs through her garbage to find the model car Penny threw away and attached a note to it in an attempt to force her to have a conversation with him. Robin Romm, author of the article “The Little Explosions of Man”, states that, “Wilson’s true gift is for depicting the dangers of strong, complex emotions. ” The extent the boy went through just to communicate with Penny foreshadows unsafe events that will occur between them.
When they began to talk, Penny finds herself drawn to the adolescent and she begins to become infatuated with him. She forms her first relationship with the adolescent because she can connect with him and feels comfortable. He accepts her for who she is. Wilson emphasizes Penny’s feelings of isolation throughout the story with her mother and the cheerleaders. He writes about how Penny had to pretend and put on an exterior in order to be liked, but she isolated herself in the process because she could not be comfortable with herself until she was at home alone.
Yet when the boy shows up, she makes this deep bond with him because Penny could be herself around him. Penny does not have to pretend to be someone else or do something to make them happy. Meanwhile, the boy is a social outcast just like Penny. He does not have any deep relationships. His parents are in different states, and he does not feel emotionally connected to his grandma. He stays at home and educates himself. When he becomes interested in Penny, he finds himself gravitating towards her, because she accepts him for who he is.
He does not have to pretend to be someone else, and she gives him her attention. In the process of getting to know each other, the boy becomes very obsessive. At the football game, he becomes so jealous of the football player flirting with Penny that he spells out Penny’s name in gasoline on her lawn and lights it on fire. His grandmother says, “My grandson is very taken with lots of things. He was very taken with flying and airplanes and then he was very taken with fire, and I’m sure he’s very taken with you” (165).
While his actions were dangerous and he put the two in the hospital because of this, did not know any other way to cope with his feelings. He hopes that spelling out Penny’s name on the lawn in the fire would make her accept him. Wilson makes the boy spell her name in fire because he is trying to explain the extent people will go to be accepted. In the real world, society will take drastic measures just to have a sense of belonging At the end of the short story, Penny still does not receive any acceptance from her mother.
After she cuts her hair and quits the cheerleading squad, her mom told her that she wishes for Penny to visit a counselor. She continues to complain about Penny’s actions and how she is unsatisfied with her. Wilson then explains how they never truly formed a bond when he writes Penny’s last interaction with her mom: “She wanted to hug her, to touch her, but she walked up the stairs and closed her bedroom door behind her” (167). Wilson shows that the mother is still not accepting of Penny and is rebelling against her because Penny is not the person who she (the mom) wants her to be.
When Penny walks away, this symbolizes that Penny does not need to establish a relationship with her mom because she finally found someone who would accept her for who she finds a deep connection with the boy. Penny later on meets up with the boy and they lay in bed together, creating sparks underneath the blankets. They decide to stay together because they feel acceptance between each other. Despite the boy’s dangerous actions crying out for her acceptance, she acknowledges him and continues to pursue the relationship because he is the first person to understand her.
Wilson concludes that because Penny and the boy could not find acceptance with other people, they found it in each other despite the age gap. They were both social outcasts longing and looking for acceptance because they did not have a sense of belonging. Wilson writes and explains the theme of how far people are willing to go just to make deep connections when they are feeling isolated Therefore, the theme of “Go, Fight, Win” reveals that people will do anything to be accepted even if that means taking drastic measures.