The Shoe-Horn Sonata

by

John Misto

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The Shoe-Horn Sonata: Act One, Scene Six Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Back in Sheila’s hotel room, the two friends form a “two-person conga line” and sing an old song from the prison camps, practicing it so they can perform it on television with the rest of the women. However, Sheila expresses her uneasiness with the idea of doing something for “a few cheap laughs on Rick’s show.” In fact, she says, she doesn’t even like Rick, who she thinks is trying too hard to pry into their pasts with indecent questions. Bridie, for her part, says Sheila doesn’t have to answer his questions, adding that she didn’t appreciate her “little dig” about the Australian man who “offered” the women to the Japanese guards. “It’s not patriotic to attack our men,” she adds, but Sheila only voices a similar complaint, lamenting the fact that Bridie talked about “the British women selling themselves for food.”
Yet again, Bridie and Sheila find themselves at odds over their patriotic pride, since they’re both so eager to disparage each other’s home country. As such, the audience witnesses the tension, friction, and resentment that arises between two people when they allow themselves to let such trivial matters interfere with their friendship.
Themes
Pride and Patriotism Theme Icon
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Bridie stands by her belief that it was “crass” and unforgiveable of the British women in the camps to “offer” themselves to the guards. She believes this because she thinks that “every woman who gave in made it harder for the rest” to say no to the enemy. When Sheila reminds her that these women were only trying to protect their children, Bridie says, “Sleeping with a Jap? I’d never have done that—not for anyone. How could you go on living with yourself—or look your family in the eye?”
Once more, Bridie refuses to empathize with the prison camp’s rape victims, framing them as immoral and selfish instead of understanding that their sacrifices were noble and tragic. In turn, the audience intuits yet again that although Bridie is willing to perform acts of kindness for other people, there are certain things she’s simply unwilling to do. Indeed, her assertion that she would “never have done that” for “anyone” is important to keep in mind as the play moves forward, since Misto is interested in exploring how far Sheila and Bridie are willing to go for one another.
Themes
Survival, Resilience, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After ranting about how much she abhors the idea of sleeping with a guard, Bridie sees a photograph of Sheila as a young woman, and Sheila tells her that Rick asked for pictures of her life before the war. Bridie then asks if she can have a copy, and when Sheila asks why, she says that she simply likes to have pictures of her friends. “People always get on when they’re tossed in together. I’d hardly call that a friendship,” Sheila says, but Bridie ignores this statement by handing her a “small tobacco tin.” Apparently, Sheila filled this tin with her own dinner one night in the prison camps, giving it to Bridie when Bridie was sick with dengue fever. Bridie was immensely thankful for this, but Sheila downplays the significance of this gesture, saying, “A few spoons of rice. I didn’t even miss them.”
It's worth noting that Sheila has suddenly become harsher in her interactions with Bridie. She even belittles the strength of their friendship and goes out of her way to seem uninvested in their connection. This is significant, considering that Bridie has just said she wouldn’t sleep with a guard to save “anyone” in the world. This, it’s easy to see, means she wouldn’t even make this sacrifice for Sheila. What’s more, Sheila’s sudden mood change indicates that she herself most likely would sacrifice herself in this way for Bridie, meaning that there is a significant imbalance in their friendship.
Themes
Survival, Resilience, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Seeing how determined Sheila is to act like she doesn’t care about their friendship, Bridie says she misses the old Sheila. Having said this, she goes to dinner, leaving Sheila alone in the room. Moving to the dresser, Sheila opens a drawer and takes out a shoe-horn, staring at it as a voice-over plays. As she stands there looking at the shoe-horn, the audience hears her voice as a young woman—she is pleading with a group of Japanese guards, who tell her to sing for them. At first, the guards laugh and applaud as she sings, but soon they become silent, touched by the beauty of her song. As the melody draws to a close, Sheila continues to gaze at the shoe-horn, and the screen behind her shows a picture of two female prisoners looking at the camera in utter destitution.
Although the voice-over in this moment is vague, it’s rather apparent that something happened to Sheila in the prison camps that continues to haunt her. What’s more, it seems likely that she has kept this traumatic experience a secret from Bridie, since she only thinks about it once Bridie leaves. Lastly, the fact that this memory blossoms in her mind when she stares at a shoe-horn—an object associated with Bridie—indicates that whatever happened must have something to do with her friend. Given that the two women have just had an argument about self-sacrifice, this is an important moment, as astute audience members will surely intuit that Sheila has done something for Bridie that remains unspoken.
Themes
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
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