The Shoe-Horn Sonata

The Shoe-Horn Sonata Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on John Misto's The Shoe-Horn Sonata. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of John Misto

John Misto is a playwright, novelist, and television writer from Sydney, Australia. Born in 1952, he graduated from the University of New South Wales and pursued a career as a lawyer. Eventually, though, he decided to devote his time to writing. Since then, he has written nine plays, including The Shoe-Horn Sonata, which won both the 1995 Australia Remembers Play Competition and New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award for Best Play. Misto has also written extensively for the screen, penning numerous television episodes and several movies.
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Historical Context of The Shoe-Horn Sonata

The Shoe-Horn Sonata references the Fall of Singapore, a battle that was fought between February 8th and February 15th of 1942, just over a year after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and other locations controlled by the United States and Great Britain. During this time, Japanese forces invaded Singapore, which was at that point a colony of Great Britain. In fact, Singapore was an important geographical location, as the British used it as their main militaristic base in Southeast Asia. After a week of fighting, British troops eventually surrendered to the Japanese in what remains the most significant British surrender in history. In the aftermath of this event, 80,000 soldiers—including British, Australian, and Indian fighters—were taken as prisoners of war by the Japanese. This, of course, is what happens to Bridie and Sheila in The Shoe-Horn Sonata. And although the play itself only focuses on the experience of Australian and British prisoners, it’s worth noting that the United States itself created internment camps during the same time period—camps that detained Japanese people living in America, though these people were not prisoners of war and weren’t subjected to as much violence or abuse.

Other Books Related to The Shoe-Horn Sonata

Although it is about World War I instead of World War II, R.C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End is similar to The Shoe-Horn Sonata, as it brings to light what it was like to live through one of humanity’s worst and most violent tragedies. Similarly, Anthony Doerr’s novel All The Light We Cannot See has certain overlaps with The Shoe-Horn Sonata, as it too explores World War II from a slightly different perspective than normal, ultimately looking not just at the lives of soldiers, but at the experiences of people whose entire existences were profoundly affected by the bleak conditions of that period. Pearl S. Buck’s “The Enemy” is also set during World War II and deals with prisoners and patriotism, but it follows a Japanese doctor as he decides what to do with an escaped American prisoner who has washed up on the beach near his house. What’s more, because of its unflinching look at the German concentration camps during World War II, Schindler’s List is also related to The Shoe-Horn Sonata, as both books consider the inhumane detainment of innocent people during the war.
Key Facts about The Shoe-Horn Sonata
  • Full Title: The Shoe-Horn Sonata
  • When Published: August 3, 1995
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Contemporary Drama, Historical Fiction, Comedy
  • Setting: A television studio and a hotel in Melbourne, Australia
  • Climax: After decades of keeping it a secret, Sheila tells Bridie that she had sex with a group of Japanese guards in exchange for the antimalarial medication that ultimately saved Bridie’s life.
  • Antagonist: Lipstick Larry, the other Japanese guards in Bridie and Sheila’s prison camp, and the devastating effects of personal trauma

Extra Credit for The Shoe-Horn Sonata

As Seen on TV. John Misto has written many episodes for an assortment of television shows, but he was the series creator of The Damnation of Harvey McHugh, an Australian drama that aired in 1994.