John Misto's The Shoe-Horn Sonata

John Misto's The Shoe-Horn Sonata

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John Misto's The Shoe-Horn Sonata

“On the other side of our barbed wire fence were twenty or thirty Aussie men – as skinny as us – and wearing slouch hats. Unlike the Japs, they had hairy legs. And they were standing in rows – serenading us.”

John Misto created a written visual image that comes through in Act 1 Scene 7 (Page 52). This is brought up in the play when Bridie and Sheila are being interviewed by Rick (Host), they were originally talking about the conditions that they were in, how they were starved and the lack of nutrition, this then moves on to how they sang through the hunger at Christmas. The Japanese then allowed the Australian men to visit the nurses, while the nurses sang a Christmas carol them. “The Japs let us do it”.

Misto created this image for the viewer to understand the separation between the men and the women in war; it was the image that was created that was used to show the division of the Australians by the Japanese. The Japanese wanted to be able to control the Australians whilst they were in the POW camps. In this quote the audience uses their imagination to picture this division of the Australians. The separation of the sexes is to take away the feelings away from the prisoners; to not allow them to communicate or be together is to block the emotions they would normally feel. The Japanese are simply stopping them to feel emotion, to stop this would be to dehumanise the Australians in order to make them do the work, like a robot, just a number to count by the Japanese. Simply given orders by the Japanese, and not to have anything said back, comments or rebellion would lead to death.

The visual language used emphasises the effect on how the audience understands what is being said, “– as skinny as us –“ is giving a side note to the audience. This simply gives the audience the information needed to understand the condition of the Australian men, as the audience knows the condition of the nurses already; the relation lets the audience know the state of men. The hyphen gives a space for the reader or the viewer to pause and think about what is being said, this aids the viewer to understand what is being said because of the emphasise placed on the quote.

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The small side note can be contrasted against the originally long sentences that were in that same speech, to have a long sentence followed by a short sentence created a sense of importance to the side note. For the audience to listen/read to the speech Bridie is making, and then suddenly pause and say “as skinny as us” aids the audience to understand the situation they are in. This can also be related to the “serenading us” which refers to the men singing to the women in the play, it has the same effect as mentioned before. As well as this showing it to be important, it is also significant to the story, having a serenade is to be gently sing affectionately to the women, this is the point where Misto is allowing the men and women to be able to connect emotionally to each other, where as the Japanese have strictly not allowed any communication, but the Japanese do recognize the traditions of the Australians and accept their culture, whether they respect it or not.

Bridie has stated the number of men that were visiting, it is to give a figure and to set the context for the audience, “twenty or thirty Aussie men”, this is an indication that Bridie may not have paid attention to the men too much, as Bridie mentioned before she had to battle through the hunger and sing through the starvation, she might have been so focused on the singing that she didn’t take a proper look at the men visiting, this gives the audience an indication that she must have tried hard, being dedicated and devoted to singing to make that Christmas better for everyone, Bridie was clearly trying to make it better for the other prisoners, by making an effort to benefit the other prisoners. Visually, this is how Misto wanted them to appear outside the POW camp, a group of men coming to visit is powerful and is important to the story. The women were able to keep their faith of getting out of the POW camp, keeping strong by seeing ‘people of your kind’ is important for them to see that their people are still alive and they are as well. This is very important for the story because it is what keeps them strong and keeps them moving forward without giving up, it’s the image of them being able to grasp them emotionally and give them motivation to continue on til the end of the war, the visual of this can assist the audience and allow the viewer to be empathic to the POWs.

The constant contrasting between the Japanese and the Australians means it is a permanent competition between who is the superior race. The reference to the how hairy the legs were of the men meant that they were trying to put down the Japanese.
“Unlike the Japs, they had hairy legs” is referring to the Australian men having hairy legs; this can allude to the Australians being more ‘manly’. This contrasting is an allusion from the Japanese to the Australians, making it appear as if the Japanese are not ‘manly’, this could further allude to attitude that the Australians hold of the Japanese, they are inferior to the white society. Bridie could be implying that the Australians are superior of the Japanese, being more of a man for having more hair than them could be a symbol for cultural supremacy. This gives the audience a distinctively visual image of the play because it is the key to the cultural separation, appearance as well as culture is key reason why people are so divided and the audience can see this through the attitudes that they women held. This visual is strong and is the theme of the play, the differences humans hold as an excuse to fight in war, both politically and culturally.

The cultural difference means that one race will be superior over the other, in this instance; it is the Japanese, having control over another race of people.
“And they were standing in rows” is part of the quote that shows the obedience the Australian men have acquired since being prisoners of war, having to comply to the Japanese way of life. Having to be a prisoner means to be a ‘number’, not being treated like a person, but as a machine with a job to do. The women see the men lined up in rows, having to be looked down on by the Japanese. The women soon realise that the men are being treated the same as the women, being starved and abused is such a strong image, undermining the Australians to the point of desperation is the image that Misto is trying to convey to the audience.

The “barbed wire fence” is distinctively visual, the visual that the audience can imagine from this is the separation of the men and women (as mentioned before), the significance of this the women and men have not been able to communicate or make any form of contact, and even though the Japanese have brought them together, they are still being divided by the Japanese, even though they are together the Japanese are still there in the middle of them to somehow intervene between the two parties. We can visualize this intervention that the Japanese feel is necessary, they are in no state to be able to fight or rebel against the Japanese, simply because of their physical condition that they have been drawn into. The Japanese still feel that they must get involved in the connection between the POWs as a note to them that they must not get too comfortable and that it will not be often this happens, also because of the fact that it is done at Christmas time implies that it is a seasonal occasion.

This quote is very effective in trying to communicate distinctively visual themes because the quote was made whilst describing the situation that the POWs experienced in the war. This is important when relating it to the play because the audience can paint a bigger picture of the circumstances that they were in whilst the war was in place. This quote was to show the visuals of the separation and division of the Australians by the Japanese by secluding them from the different sexes along with the superior attitude of the Japanese and the attitude of the Australians have of the Japanese soldiers.
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