The incident with the red sweater in the short story "Eleven" makes Rachel, the narrator, feel humiliated. Although it is her eleventh birthday, it makes her feel younger, smaller, and intensely insecure. She wishes she could fly away so that others would not be able to see her.
In Rachel's mind, she contrasts the scene in the classroom with what will happen when she gets home. There will be a party for her, her family will sing "Happy Birthday," and there will be presents. However, she thinks that because of the humiliation of what has happened in the classroom, she will be unable to enjoy it.
The incident in the classroom could easily have been avoided if Rachel's teacher had shown more empathy and compassion. The teacher finds an ugly red sweater in the cloakroom and, despite Rachel's protestations, insists not only that it is hers but that she should put it on and wear it. Rachel complies, considering that "because she's older and the teacher, she's right and I'm not." The problem is that in this instance, the teacher is very wrong to inflict such suffering upon an eleven-year-old child. Children of this age are very sensitive, and the teacher should have been aware of this. Her insistence that Rachel should put on the sweater is an act of cruelty. It is no wonder, then, that Rachel feels shamed and humiliated and wishes she could fly away "like a runaway balloon" so that no one would be able to see her and observe her humiliation.