The Shoe-Horn Sonata

by

John Misto

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Shoe-Horn Sonata can help.

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

Summary
Analysis
Bridie helps Sheila with her luggage, opening the door to her friend’s hotel room and telling her that “everything’s paid for” by the television station. Sheila, for her part, is visibly nervous about having to appear on air, but Bridie ignores her worries, instead complaining to herself that Sheila hasn’t even said it’s good to see her—a comment that goes unnoticed because Sheila doesn’t hear. When Sheila tells her to speak into her “good ear,” Bridie says that she should tell Rick—the interviewer—that she’s hard of hearing, and Sheila warily says, “What sort of questions is he asking?” Sensing Sheila’s anxiety about the entire ordeal, Bridie assures her that Rick is “very tactful,” and then she changes the subject, asking if Sheila recognized her in the “foyer.” “Who could ever forget that big walk of yours?” she replies.
Sheila’s anxiety surrounding the interview process reminds the audience how hard it is to examine one’s own trauma. Although Bridie appears relatively unfazed by the idea of rehashing painful experiences, Sheila is clearly hesitant to talk about what happened in the Japanese prison camps. In this way, Misto demonstrates that people confront hardship and emotional turmoil in different ways, resorting to their own coping mechanisms.
Themes
Survival, Resilience, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Bridie pokes fun of Sheila for wearing “gloves,” but Sheila says this is the “sign of a lady.” As she says this, she notices Bridie’s wedding ring and is taken aback, though Bridie says her husband has been dead for fifteen years. Sheila, for her part, has never married, though she quickly changes the subject by asking if any of the other women from their prison camp have come for the interview, and Bridie lists their old friends. “What about Ivy?” Sheila asks, and Bridie says, “Dead for years.” Pausing to think about this dead friend, the two women remember that Ivy used to complain about not having cigarettes in the prison camps, saying, “They can starve me till my bones poke out—But I’ll die without a fag, love.” After the war, she apparently told a minister that “the Good Book” is what helped her “survive.”
Ivy’s remark about “dying without a [cigarette]” serves as one of the play’s first examples of how people often use humor to deal with travesty and difficult circumstances. What’s more, although Bridie and Sheila obviously have quite a bit of tension between them—as evidenced by the way they speak rather disparagingly about one another—they are still perfectly capable of connecting by talking about their wartime experiences, remembering old friends fondly and reliving the jokes that helped get them through the otherwise traumatizing experience.
Themes
Survival, Resilience, and Catharsis Theme Icon
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As they talk about their old friends, Bridie says that one of the other women bet her five dollars that Sheila wouldn’t actually “show up.” “She was sure you’d consider it—‘unrefined’—going on television—airing your feelings,” she says, and Sheila confesses that she does think the idea isn’t “very ‘dignified.’” Hearing this Bridie asks why Sheila came in the first place, if she thinks it’s such a bad idea. “And don’t say you did it for the chance of seeing me,” she adds. “Not after fifty years of hiding—” Cutting her off, Sheila insists she wasn’t hiding, but Bridie reminds her that in 1945, Sheila claimed she was returning to England, but actually stayed in Australia. Indeed, for the past 50 years, Sheila has lived extremely close to Bridie without ever coming to see her.
Sheila’s assertion that it isn’t “dignified” to talk about her emotions on television shows the audience that she is rather averse to the idea of reliving her traumatic experiences before an audience. As such, she frames the entire ordeal as beneath her, using her pride as an excuse to avoid discussing her own trauma. In this way, she keeps herself from embracing the idea of opening up about her pain, ultimately insisting that her hesitance isn’t a form of repression, but rather a “dignified” and proper way of comporting oneself. Given that she has actively avoided Bridie for 50 years, though, it’s obvious that she’s skeptical of the interview process because it will force her to stop running from her troubling memories.
Themes
Pride and Patriotism Theme Icon
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After Bridie tells Sheila that she should have written to her, the two women stand in tense silence. Bridie casts her friend a look, wanting “desperately” for her to say that she came to see her. “It is clear that something is still going on between these two women—even after fifty years’ separation,” Misto notes. Then, breaking the tension, Sheila tries to haul her suitcase onto the bed. Seeing this, Bridie jumps to attention, telling her not to do it on her own because she’ll hurt her back. And though Sheila insists she can do it alone, Bridie says, “We’ll do it like we used to,” and the two women pretend that they’re lifting a coffin in the prison camps. “Ichi—Ni—San,” they count, throwing the suitcase onto the bed and shouting, “Ya-ta!!!”
When Misto says that Sheila and Bridie are still dealing with interpersonal troubles “even after fifty years’ separation,” the audience sees that people who go through traumatic experiences together often have complicated relationships. Indeed, Bridie and Sheila’s friendship is saddled with tension and resentment, although Misto hasn’t yet made it clear why, exactly, this is the case. And yet, the two women have also maintained a certain closeness, despite all their years apart. When they lift the suitcase onto the bed, for example, they demonstrate their willingness to work together to manage their respective burdens.
Themes
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire The Shoe-Horn Sonata LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Shoe-Horn Sonata PDF