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 Two, Scene Ten Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sheila knits by herself in the television studio until Bridie comes in and asks why she didn’t tell her about Lipstick Larry earlier. Sheila says that she wanted to, but that right after the war—when they were both taken to a hospital in Singapore—Bridie underwent several medical procedures, and Sheila worried that the “shock” might kill Bridie if she knew the truth. However, she also knew that she couldn’t stick around and continue to lie to her friend, so she snuck out while Bridie was asleep. And though she had intended to go to England, she only made it as far as Australia because she was so eager to get off the boat and start her life anew.
The fact that Sheila has been unable to tell Bridie what she did for her demonstrates how difficult it can be for survivors of trauma to voice their experiences. Indeed, Sheila decides to keep quiet about what happened because she fears it will upset Bridie—unfortunately, she is correct, considering that Bridie responds so terribly fifty years after the actual event. This, of course, is a failure of empathy, one that strains their friendship and validates Sheila’s decision to hold onto her toxic secret.
Themes
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
“Why did you have to go with that Jap?” Bridie laments, and Sheila says, “I had to do it. I couldn’t let you die.” In response, Bridie says she wishes she’d known at the time, since she “would never have let” Sheila make such a sacrifice. After a brief pause, she adds, “Sheila—please—let me try and help.” Unfortunately, though, Sheila knows that there’s very little Bridie can do, a point she makes clear by telling her friend that she sees Lipstick Larry every night when she goes to bed. “He calls to me and I go to him,” she says, “and no one can change that. Not even you.”
Although Bridie’s response to Sheila’s traumatic experience lacks empathy, in this moment she finally tries to fulfill her duty as a friend, saying, “let me try and help.” However, the damage is already done, since her harsh reaction has only caused Sheila to think that “no one can change” her situation. And while it’s true that there’s nothing anyone can do to erase what happened to Sheila, it’s not necessarily the case that Bridie is completely incapable of helping in some other way. Indeed, Bridie’s acceptance and love might help Sheila begin to process her rape rather than repress it, though she doesn’t appear ready to do this, most likely because Bridie has been so judgmental.
Themes
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Bridie asks if Sheila has ever told anyone else about what happened to her, and Sheila says she once tried to tell her mother. As soon as she began, though, her mother told her to “pull up [her] socks and get on with it.” Hearing this, Bridie talks about how upset she is that she was unable to protect her friend, wanting badly to “get [her] out alive and untouched.” “But I let you down, didn’t I?” Sheila says, and Bridie snaps, saying, “Yes. You did! You ruined your life—for a Jap!” In turn, Sheila reminds Bridie that she did it for her because she was “stupid enough to think” that Bridie would have “done the same.” In response, Bridie says she would have “starved” or “died” for Sheila, but would never have slept with a Japanese guard.
In this scene, the audience sees that Sheila doesn’t have anyone willing to support her and help her process her trauma. Not even her mother manages to provide her with a proper outlet through which she might express her pain, and now Bridie—the very person for whom she made the sacrifice in the first place—actively resents her for what happened. Although Bridie’s resentment in this moment might have to do with her unfortunate tendency to judge rape survivors, it’s also obvious that she feels uncomfortable about the fact that Sheila “ruined [her] life” for Bridie’s sake. Because she’ll never be able to repay this, then, Bridie goes in the opposite direction, ultimately deciding to shame Sheila because this is the only way she can think to process her emotions.
Themes
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After a tense silence, Sheila reminds Bridie that the documentary special is finishing the next day, so they’ll be “out of each other’s way.” Bridie, for her part, says that Sheila should have let her die, and Sheila says, “Yes. Perhaps I should have.”
Again, it’s evident that Bridie can’t come to terms with the sacrifice Sheila made for her. Feeling indebted to her friend, she says that Sheila shouldn’t have made this sacrifice in the first place, ultimately allowing her guilt to manifest itself as anger and scorn.
Themes
Friendship, Sacrifice, and Resentment Theme Icon
Trauma and Repression Theme Icon
Get the entire The Shoe-Horn Sonata LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Shoe-Horn Sonata PDF