Nurture or Nature: The Gentleman Versus the Guttersnipe

Many individuals are adept at recognizing changes in their environment, others, and themselves. To these people, whatever the “change” might be-a new hairstyle, a new article of clothing, or an affected spoken dialect-rarely goes unnoticed. Sometimes, however, even these keen and perceptive individuals fail to recognize a most conspicuous and striking transformation. In George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, the protagonist, Henry Higgins, a noted master of language, fails to recognize a dramatic, emotional change in one of his “creations,” the flower girl of Covent Garden Market. The conflict that exists between these characters is that the impregnable façade of social distinction and personal appearance masks the true reality of their natures; this classic man-versus- man conflict is the basis of the play. An English gentleman of the Victorian period was supposed to be polite, patient, helpful, and above all, compassionate. None of these words describe the highly respected scholar and “gentleman,” Henry Higgins. The eccentric, energetic, and short-tempered Professor Higgins dominates any situation in which he participates due to the directness of his barked commands. The perceptive reader understands that none of these traits should be used to identify an English gentleman of the nineteenth century. For example, when Higgins terrifies a flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, under the portico of Saint Paul’s Church in Covent Garden by writing down her every word, Eliza desperately pleads with the onlookers not to allow this “copper’s nark” to arrest her. Higgins brusquely denies any association with the police saying, “Oh, shut up, shut up. Do I look like a policeman?” (7). Higgins’ abrupt entrance and boorish response to Eliza’s expressed fears portray his callous lack of regard for other people’s feelings. Likewise, when Eliza appears at Higgins’ door to accept his challenge to teach her proper English and to make her a lady, he insults her. Higgins does not demonstrate even a hint of courtesy towards Eliza and openly calls her “dirty” and “deliciously low”; he treats her as if she were a muddy dog that has been let loose in the living room as he shouts orders such as “Sit down” and “Hold your tongue.” After Colonel Pickering reminds Higgins of his boast to transform this “squashed cabbage leaf” and bets that Higgins cannot accomplish such a feat, Higgins tramples over all opposition. He ignores Eliza’s ignorant terror and Mrs. Pearce’s matronly disapproval. He harshly demands that Eliza be scrubbed, dressed in clean clothing, and taught the niceties of social etiquette. Higgins becomes absorbed in her as an experiment since she has been reduced to an object that it pleases him to study. Thus, the reader recognizes that the short-tempered, insensitive, and disrespectful Henry Higgins, while highly respected by the bon ton, possesses only the superficial characteristics of a gentleman. Wealthy, educated Londoners, such as Henry Higgins, often viewed the many poor and uneducated citizens of their city as crass, vulgar, and committed to corruption and immorality. While Eliza Doolittle is certainly a member of the poor, uneducated class, she possesses none of the characteristics associated with them. Having been turned out of her home by her father and stepmother because she was capable of looking after herself, Eliza manages to stay alive by selling flowers on various London street corners. Eliza’s admirable efforts to remain a “good girl” prove that she is a young woman who possesses exceptional qualities of mind and heart and a definite standard of proper behavior. Thus, although Eliza needs much refinement concerning the social etiquette and proper conduct of the aristocratic upper class, she already possesses a solid foundation of integrity and principle, the internal qualities of a true lady. The reader’s respect for Eliza’s character deepens after she meets Henry Higgins who is determined to transform her into a “duchess.” Because Eliza is clear in her own mind concerning her goals in life, she sees Professor Higgins’ challenge as an opportunity to better herself through hard work rather than a “handout” or a “free lunch.” Eliza’s potential to evolve externally into a genteel lady is astounding. After a bath, Eliza is attractive. Dressed in decent clothing, Eliza is stylish and eye-catching. Finally, after much hard work with Higgins, Eliza’s quick ear for sounds enables her to speak “the language of Shakespeare and Milton” better than most scholars. In each of these situations, Eliza’s physical change mirrors one of her positive character traits. Eliza’s newfound cleanliness reflects her inward purity; her fashionable dress parallels her inward beauty; and her newly acquired manners and speech represent her willingness to work for what she wants. Consequently, the reader realizes that while this “creature” already possesses the necessary character traits of a genuine lady, Eliza Doolittle’s external appearance now corresponds to the beauty of her soul. During the progress of Eliza’s transformation, a profound human relationship begins to develop, partly unnoticed, but in conflict with the original arrangement of teacher and pupil. When Eliza and Higgins initially meet, Higgins bullies and orders the unsuspecting Eliza to change so that the poor flower girl, who was once “condemned to the gutter,” manages to acquire new manners, new speech, and a new sense of self. Combined with her former independence, self-sufficiency, and virtue, Eliza’s new talents and fresh outlook on her position in the world form a being who is beautiful in all aspects. Despite having such beauty in his presence daily, Higgins ignores it and continues to focus on Eliza as an object, an experiment, or a challenge. Higgins refuses to recognize Eliza’s individuality and her status as an equal so much so that he calls her a “thing” that he has molded from squashed cabbage leaves. Higgins is perfectly content with Eliza’s remaining in his household as a servant, someone to fetch and carry his slippers, run errands, and remember his scheduled appointments. While Eliza does not mind these duties, she does resent being a “thing” of convenience. Thus, the climax of the conflict occurs after Higgins and Eliza, joined by Colonel Pickering, return to Wimpole Street from the royal reception ball and the men totally ignore Eliza. Higgins states that “the experiment” is possibly his greatest achievement; ironically, however, Higgins’ greatest failure is not realizing that Eliza is a young women of kind heart, gentle nature, and a willing spirit who wonders “whats to become of me? Whats to become of me?” (72). Even Pickering, the ever-courteous and polite gentleman, fails to acknowledge Eliza’s role in the success of the “bet.” When Higgins states, “Thank God it’s over!” (70), he fails to realize the meaning his statement holds for Eliza. Continuing his selfish soliloquy, Higgins comforts himself by saying he will never try such an undertaking again; “the whole thing [experiment of making Eliza a lady] has been simple purgatory” (71). With these words, Higgins shatters Eliza’s hopes for a future for herself. She believes that as an “experiment” she will be dismantled of disposed. Thus, when Higgins has the temerity to give Eliza his breakfast order, Eliza overreacts so much so that she declares, “Oh God! I wish I was dead” (73). Having been greatly wounded by Higgins’ unemotional attitude towards her, Eliza, in turn, reduces him to a state of helpless fury by addressing him with great propriety as “sir” to underscore the servility of her situation. She “rubs salt in the wounds” when she inquires if she will be permitted to keep her clothing when she leaves his residence. While “the experiment” is still dressed in her regal finery, Eliza manages to cause Higgins to lose his temper while she reclaims some of her independence. Each of these individuals has lost a valuable part of his/her independence over the course of their working relationship; each of them causes the other great pain rather than the joy that should come from the accomplishment of their undertaking. The resolution of their situation is unsatisfying to the reader’s heart but acceptable because of the reality of who each person is; Higgins is too set in his ways to realize that his callous attitude toward others adversely affects all of his human relationships. Similarly, Eliza is too uncertain of her new status to feel comfortable in the presence of members of Victorian high society and to refined to return to Covent Garden as a flower girl. The conflict of Pygmalion resides in the fact that social distinction and personal appearance often mask the true reality of an individual’s character. Henry Higgins, while possessing the title of a gentleman, fails to live up to the chivalrous standards of his social class. Eliza Doolittle, while possessing a kind, virtuous nature befitting a lady, lacks social stature and refinement. At the climax of the conflict, the reader recognizes that although Eliza Doolittle’s outer appearance has changed to mirror her inner nature, Henry Higgins’ social class still offers a front for his ungentlemanly character. Higgins’ remark, “I said I’d make a woman of you; and I have,” has become true to some extent; as a lady, however, Eliza has surpassed Higgins’ ability to “create.” The lingering hope in the reader’s mind is that he will always encourage every person to cherish and become their geniune selves.

An Atypical Romance in Five Acts

On the title page of Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw describes the play as ‘A Romance in Five Acts’. Throughout the play, readers might assume that the heroine and hero of Pygmalion will end up romantically together. In fact, a common complaint about Shaw’s masterpiece is that, though it he calls it a romance, the protagonists are not, and do not fall in love during the course of the play. Upon closer observation, it is plain to see why the main characters do not end up together. Henry Higgins is not only unfit to marry the poor flower girl he turns into the image of a grand princess, he is unfit to marry anyone at all. Though readers may complain, he will remain a self-proclaimed bachelor.A major reason why Higgins will never marry is that he does not have the need to marry. Although it may seem odd to readers, Higgins has his ideal of a perfect woman in his mother. When the reader meets Mrs. Higgins in Act III, Shaw describes in great detail her simple and elegant furniture and decorating style. This gives the impression that she is a woman of good taste who manages to be in style without cluttering her home. Presented as the proper hostess, Mrs. Higgins is polite and charming. When Higgins tells his mother that he and Colonel Pickering have picked Eliza up, literally off of the street, the concern that Mrs. Higgins shows is admirable. It lets the reader know that Mrs. Higgins is aware that her son is not perfect, and that she is thoughtful about others. Readers see this again at the end of Act IV when Eliza runs away from the less approachable Higgins, to his mother’s home. Mrs. Higgins listens to what Eliza tells her and tries to make her comfortable. Shaw, himself, talks a great deal in his epilogue about why Mrs. Higgins is one of the reasons her son does not marry. Shaw tells readers that Higgins knew young women “had an irresistible rival in his mother” (110). He explains to the reader that “if an imaginative boy has a sufficiently rich mother who has intelligence, personal grace, dignity of character without harshness, and a cultivated sense of the best art of her time…she sets a standard for him against which very few women can struggle” (110). This is indeed true and one of the best examples of why Higgins has no need to marry.Perhaps the best reason why Higgins will not marry is that marriage, considered the act of sharing one’s soul with a life partner, goes against his personality and almost all that he stands for. His stubborn independence keeps him from wanting a partner for life, especially because he does not need one. His mother, his secretary, and Eliza assist him in anything that he needs and he does not have to be tied down with responsibilities, if he does not choose. When Eliza argues with him that he never treated her well, he responds that her problem is not that he does not treat a flower girl as if she was a duchess, it is that he “treat[s] a duchess as if she was a flower girl” (101). This is indeed typical of Higgins’ behavior; he does not flatter and does not wish to be flattered. Higgins does not go out of his way to be more polite to women; his idea of a gallant compliment is the plain and blunt truth. It is doubtful how well Higgins would have survived in the Middle Ages during the time of chivalry.The particular complaint of most readers of Pygmalion is not that Higgins did not marry; it is that he did not marry Eliza. Shaw easily explains this in his epilogue by having the reader look at the personalities of both and the roles that they had to each other. Higgins and Eliza are both strong-willed independent people. Eliza’s ideal man is one who shows his love for her and, in some ways, holds her above him and idolizes her. The main reason why she is attracted to Freddy is that he is attracted to her and he acts as though he cannot live without her. Higgins seems to hold this type of man in contempt. He equates strong emotions with violence and even if he was attracted to Eliza, he would never fawn over her in the way that Freddy does. In some ways, this hurts Eliza’s pride. At first, she wrongly believes that if she does things for Higgins, such as carrying his slippers to him, he will love her. When she finally stands up to him however, he tells her that this is “better than snivelling; better than fetching slippers and finding spectacles” (107) and that he likes her more when she speaks her mind. Another major reason why Higgins did not marry Eliza is their difference in class. Though Higgins teaches her to look and act like a member of the middle class, Eliza is still a flower girl picked from the gutter. As Shaw says “I cannot conceive a less happy ending to the story of Pygmalion than a love affair between the middle-class professor, a confirmed bachelor with a mother fixation, and a flower girl of 18” (128).In the end, for Higgins the cons of marriage far outweigh the pros. In his mother, Mrs. Pearce, and Eliza, Higgins has all of the female companionship he will ever need. Actually, between the three women mentioned, he has far more female companionship than he will ever want. To have Higgins marry would be to go against the nature of the characters, and though Pygmalion is a romance, it is plain to see Shaw’s purpose in having his protagonist remain single.

The Morality of a Scoundrel: Understanding Mr. Doolittle’s Importance

At first glance and introduction, it seems Mr. Doolittle is no more than a slovenly and crude navvyman. He serves the plot as nothing more than a physical representation of where Eliza comes from. However, in the two scenes he is in, he steals the show. His listless and content nature belies a man with a sharp mind, sharp ideals, and an even sharper tongue. Alfred Doolittle is a man who knows what makes him happy, and does not like the responsibility that he would gain if he improved his quality of life.

One of the most important parts of Mr. Doolittle’s character is his words. His natural gift of rhetoric reveals the brilliant mind underneath his calloused exterior. It is the audience’s first clear look at the true depth of Mr. Doolittle’s character. One of the things Doolittle talks most about in his first appearance is his own contentment. One instance arises in lines 255-259 of Act II, where he says, “Undeserving poverty is my line. Taking one station in society with another, it’s—it’s—well, it’s the only one that has any ginger in it, to my taste.” Before and after his “transformation,” he talks about being satisfied with his current position. All he desires is some simple, earthly pleasures on occasion. He speaks about his own disgust with the codependency and responsibility that comes with being a member of the middle-class, the “middle-class morality”. His complaints are most easily summarized in lines 67 and 68 of Act V when he sighs and says, “I’m expected to provide for everyone now, out of three thousand a year.” His words are his greatest strength in this play, and he only wishes to use them for the bare minimum of his desires. They make his lack of motivation clear.

Whereas Mr. Doolittle’s words tell the reader his strengths and values, his actions tell the reader his relationship to morality. The first thing he does in the play is use Eliza’s position with Henry to ask for money. This insight into the morals of Doolittle gives the audience a basis of comparison for his further development. He regards morality as a privilege afforded only to the upper-class. Later, when he becomes wealthy, he regards his own responsibility towards his family as a terrible curse he must bear. Another one of his defining actions, is his rejection of any offer he thinks is above him. Twice, Higgins offers him something beyond his original request: “a seat in the Cabinet” and ten pounds. Both times, Doolittle refuses, saying all he wants is to have a small splurge then continue his normal life. Due to the underlying sarcasm and manipulation in Doolittle’s words, it is hard to judge his motives. However, one could argue that Doolittle’s sense of self-worth is, in its own sense, a form of morality. It is made clear that his sense of morality is directly tied to his financial situation. When he becomes wealthy, he immediately falls “victim” to the same sensibilities he claimed himself above when he was poor. He has few convictions that are not subject to change at the slightest shift in financial situation.

The reactions of the characters to Mr. Doolittle give, in some ways, clearer pictures of his character than his own words. Eliza’s bitter anger and revulsion towards him imply a long history of cruelty and neglect at his hands. This is further confirmed by Doolittle’s encouragement that Higgins should beat Eliza. It is Higgins’s own curiosity in Mr. Doolittle that truly cements that, although not a good person, there is something very interesting about him. The audience already knows that Higgins sees everything as compared to himself, with little regard or empathy for anyone or anything, similar to Doolittle himself, so his attitude towards Doolittle as a specimen of sorts are not surprising. The most interesting reactions are what the “polite and upper class” characters, Pickering and Mrs. Higgins, think of Doolittle. Naturally, upon their first meeting they are both relatively horrified. That being said, their later, more pleasant feelings, toward him are a testament to his own power of charisma. If one keeps character bias in mind, these second-person perspectives on the character of Doolittle can add much to the analysis. They further support the idea that Doolittle is the perfect archetype of the “charming rascal.”

But what is the importance of Mr. Doolittle? How does he help convey the ideas of the story? Doolittle is important at the beginning of the story in relation to Eliza. Now, the audience knows what type of person Eliza was raised to be. He is a point of reference for how far she will come. Doolittle is also extremely important in relation to Higgins. He works as a parallel to Higgins They are both wise, both have terrible manners and tempers, and they are both satisfied with their position in life. What makes one of them a gentleman and the other a scoundrel? The central theme of the show is where the line between classes is drawn and why. Doolittle’s character serves as an important reminder that civility is not skin deep, and is always subjective.

Doolittle is a man who takes what he is given and does not work for what is not handed to him. His scruples are nonexistent, and he follows convention when he feels he must. His oratory gift is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness in that it makes him a casualty of middle-class morality. He does not aid in the character’s personal growth, but instead serves as a message to the audience that anyone can be a “gentleman”. It is the humor and irony of satire that gives him an end with his worst fear, a life better than he deserves.

Pygmalion and the Dissolution of Class Barriers

George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’ is a play that is scathing in its attack on the pruderies, hypocrisies and inconsistencies of higher society in early 20th century London. Through the transformation of Eliza Doolittle, Shaw reveals to the audience that amongst the ‘draggletailed guttersnipe[s]’ of the lower class, there lies hidden an intelligence, honesty and tenacity that exceeds the virtues of the upper class, and that the way in which they are treated by their apparent social betters is unjustified. However, Shaw’s castigation of the upper class is not simply restricted to the character of Eliza – through various characters in the play, Shaw creates a moral landscape that juxtaposes people at the top end of the social hierarchy, with those at the very lowest end. He challenges the bases of judgements made by the upper class (judgements based on trivial surface appearances, such as one’s accent, one’s social niceties and one’s occupation), and questions the supposed inadequacies of Eliza’s class. Ultimately, Shaw encourages the audience to look beyond the stifling class barriers of the period and embrace the basic human characteristics of goodness. The character of Eliza embodies this goodness, and the audience is therefore provoked to have disdain for the upper class who, in contrast, treat her so poorly. According to Shaw in his preface, great art can never be anything but didactic, and in ‘Pygmalion’ didacticism is truly forefront, as Shaw confronts his audience to consider whether this high society to which Eliza aspires, is actually worth aspiring to at all.

In the very first scene of the play, Eliza’s protestations against the cursory judgements of her by the upper class reveal much about her character; ‘I’m a good girl I am’ – Eliza’s catchphrase that is so central to her character, as well as to Shaw’s intentions, is introduced here. Shaw reveals to the audience, through this simple line, the level of self-respect Eliza has for herself. Furthermore, the tone of this line – that is, exclamatory, and filled with despair – evokes the intense feistiness and energy of Eliza that is perpetuated throughout the play. Shaw encourages the audience to see that Eliza cannot simply be pigeon-holed, like so many other beggars were, as an immoral, insignificant flake of a person. In the Edwardian era in which the play is set, members of the ‘upper class’ (that is, those born into wealth and social status due to a noble lineage) generally held a view that people like Eliza lacked any sense of morality, however with this simple line, Shaw creates in Eliza a character which destroys this mould. This is pivotal to Shaw’s intentions in ‘Pygmalion’, demonstrating the inconsistencies that permeate the upper class – even though the members of high society considered themselves the paradigm of morality and virtue, they are ignorant to the immorality of their unjustifiable behavior towards people like Eliza, who evidently don’t deserve to be treated with such disdain and contempt. Shaw is demonstrating to the audience that, contrary to common opinion, morality transcends class barriers, and is one of the earliest examples of Shaw condemning the inconsistent and questionably judgmental behavior of the upper class, as well as a society that seeks to lock people into certain personas based on class alone, without thorough consideration of their individual merits.

Despite the fact that many, if not all, of Eliza’s admirable qualities are present in her initial character, these qualities are further showcased by Shaw in a confrontational scene between Higgins and Eliza after her transformation is complete – a transformation which essentially uncovers more of Eliza’s hidden virtues and brings them to fruition. Here, Eliza demonstrates a skillful grasp on wit, comparing Higgins’ statement that he ‘treat[s] a duchess as if she was a flower girl’ to the behavior of her father, a comparison which would have been taken very unfavorably by Higgins, due to his and others’ tendency to look down upon Doolittle’s behavior for its lack of morality and decency. Not only is Shaw reinforcing here that laudable qualities, such as wittiness, can be present in anyone, regardless of social distinction, Eliza’s comparison of Higgins to Doolittle demonstrates that the reverse is also true; despicable and condemnable qualities exist irrespective of class or social status, discrediting even further the idea that the class structure impacts in any way on the individual human condition.

When Eliza allows Pickering to call her by her first name, but politely requests that Higgins call her ‘Miss Doolittle’, Eliza maintains common courtesy and decorum, yet the grit and cheek which is so distinctive about her character, is still present. Shaw uses this comment by Eliza to satirize the prudent and restrained nature of high society – Eliza puts Higgins in his place through this slight impudence, however maintains the manners which were so treasured during the period. She demonstrates intelligence and control here; she knows that in order to gain power over Higgins and make him responsible for his actions, she must present it to him in the way to which he is accustomed (with grace and polish), and to resort to the wailing and desperation of her past language would be to succumb to Higgins’ claims that she is not a lady at all. What she does however, is maintain the niceties to which Higgins is accustomed, but uses her own characteristic boldness to gain Higgins’ attention. Essentially, this is Shaw’s attempt to discredit the woodenness of the upper class, using Eliza’s language here as an example of how comments that verge on impertinence, can be used to one’s own benefit, without compromising one’s integrity or polish, as Eliza does in this scene. Fundamentally, Shaw uses the transformation of Eliza to showcase all of her estimable and admirable qualities, such as her biting wit, and the way in which she cleverly harnesses her spunky energy for her own advantage, creating a character to whom the reader aspires.

Whilst Shaw utilizes the transformation of Eliza to focus on the hidden merits of the lower class, this is not the only presence that the playwright uses to condemn the qualities of the upper class in ‘Pygmalion’. Perhaps the most powerful device that Shaw uses for this end is the juxtaposition between the estimable character of Eliza, and certain members of high society, whose values portrayed as anything but estimable. The varying characters in the play create a moral landscape which positions Eliza, complete with all her virtue, vibrancy and goodness, at one end of the spectrum, and clearly places characters such as Higgins, from high society, at the very opposite pole. The contrast between these groups of characters could not be starker; Eliza is honest, straightforward, and moral, whereas Higgins, who in the words of his own mother, ‘has no manners’, and is a character who treats Eliza with such inferiority that it seems as if he views as her as non-human, or like ‘a pebble on the beach’ (as Mrs Pearce puts it). Shaw uses the frequency with which Higgins talk about Eliza as if she is not present, such as when he says she’s ‘so deliciously low – so horribly dirty’, to convey to the audience the immorality of Higgins’ behaviour. Higgins later claims to treat everyone equally, (‘and I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl’) however the audience already knows this to be untrue from the manners which he employs with people such as Mrs Eynsford Hill throughout the play. This hypocrisy of Higgins serves to do more damage to the audience’s perception of his character, and hence the high society to which he belongs. Given that the audience is privy to the unexpected nuances of Eliza’s character, such as her self-respect and morality, Higgins’ defamatory comments towards Eliza, such as his calling her a ‘piece of baggage’ are intended by Shaw to be uncomfortable for the audience, who are intentionally provoked to reflect upon their own behaviour with a new consideration for members of the poor such as Eliza. This juxtaposition is perhaps the salient vessel through which Shaw aims to condemn the values of high society, and discredit the idea that morality and class are somehow related. It is evident in Shaw’s eyes that the two are mutually exclusive.

One character however – Freddy – stands out from amongst his social counterparts; instead of judging Eliza based on her speech and other external features, Freddy is thrilled and excited by the refreshing honesty and straightforwardness of Eliza. He finds her ‘awfully funny’, and contrasts with the other upper class characters in the play who shun Eliza based upon her outward appearances and background. Shaw uses the character of Freddy to endorse a societal freedom and the breaking down of class barriers; Freddy is depicted as a courageous visionary who can see beyond the lack of social niceties and conventions in Eliza’s character, and respect her integral morality and energy which is so lacking in many of the people with whom he spends his time. Shaw offers the character of Freddy, who breaks away from the social expectations of him, to pursue a life with a common flower girl, as an alternative to the superficial and immorally hypocritical life as a member of the upper class. In the sequel of the play, it is made distinctly clear that Freddy’s intelligence pales in comparison to Eliza’s brilliance, when Higgins declares that ‘if [Freddy] tried to do any useful work some competent person would have the trouble of undoing it’, and that Eliza would have ‘an ideal errand boy’ in Freddy. Shaw made this decision regarding Freddy’s character for a number of reasons, however he intends Freddy’s lack of smarts to make his courageous decision more accessible, creating an “if he can do it, then so can I” mentality among members of the audience. Shaw uses Freddy’s lack of intelligence in an effort to engender angst, or perhaps even paranoia in the audience, that maybe they too, should be undergoing a similar conversion to Freddy, which is further evidence of Shaw’s attempt to create a didactic work of theatre that aims to break down and dismantle class barriers.

Shaw’s active presence as a socialist is strongly felt in ‘Pygmalion’ – the pruderies, hypocrisies and inconsistencies of high society are condemned in such an emphatic way that his evident egalitarian views are conveyed in a subtle, yet forceful manner, the concerns of Shaw being disguised beneath the satire and light-heartedness of the play’s action. However, upon closer inspection, the models of Eliza and Freddy, revolutionary in their respective abilities to refute and reject preconceived notions around class, provide the soother to the undercurrent of societal anger that permeates throughout the play. Through the transformation of Eliza, as well as the juxtaposition between Eliza and people generally seen as her societal betters in terms of morality and decency, Shaw imparts to the audience a secret and almost taboo knowledge; that class barriers are far weaker than they seem. He challenges members of the audience to consider, if they are part of the upper class, whether they are truly as virtuous as they think, and, if they are aspiring to be in the upper class, why exactly this is so. In this way, ‘Pygmalion’ is an utterly didactic work that seeks to challenge, and ultimately obliterate all class-related preconceptions and barriers.

The Mutual Exclusivity of Class and Morality in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’

The honest and compelling transformation of a simple flower girl from a disempowered ‘draggle-tailed guttersnipe’ to a ‘fierce’ woman who demands what she ‘want[s]’ and feistily laments the loss of her ‘independence’ is emblematic of the laudable qualities that Shaw wishes to highlight in the human person, existing regardless of social status. The result of this transformation is antithetic to the hypocrisy, questionable morality and lack of emotional intelligence of her Pygmalion figure, and others who belong to this class to which Eliza aspires, as Shaw exposes the redundancy of the institutionalized class system and advocates for its dissolution, as the class of the characters play is shown to exist independently of their morality.

The play finds its roots in a mere ‘foll[y]’ for the revered Professor Higgins. This is a confronting description for the audience, as the word ‘folly’ implies than for Higgins, this girl’s life is reduced to a casual undertaking of little thought and consideration, which established the idea that Higgins regards human emotions rather like scientific objects; something to be experimented on, and to an extent abused, for personal pleasure. He declares that ‘[he] shall make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe’. This proclamation, with its imperative and commanding ‘I’ and ‘shall’ establishes Higgins as a figure whose pride and desire to display his elocutionary talents is boundless, with blatant disregard for the effects of his actions on this girl. Furthermore, this personal and self-directed language imparts a sense of self-importance and conceit around the character of Higgins. He considers himself above his test subject, and as such, Eliza might as well be ‘a pebble on the beach’ to him – a symbol that dehumanizes her, and blends her among the rest of her class, who were blanketed as immoral, defunct and of little worth; as commonplace as a pebble among thousands. The audience is later to learn that this cursory and supercilious judgement of Eliza was misplaced, though for now Shaw introduces Higgins as a character of comedic value, whose ‘folly’ excites him to the extent that he is ‘carried away’ by the linguistic challenge it poses. He demands that the task be started ‘now! This moment!’; the repetition of exclamation marks here accentuating the fervent, almost childlike desire of Higgins to toy with his new plaything as soon as possible, exacerbating the audience’s perception of Higgins’ somewhat childish behavior that is so unadulterated in nature, and so oblivious to its consequences. This desire is symbolized by a ‘hurricane’ in the stage directions, and it is exactly that – a destructive force which wreaks itself upon anything so misfortunate as to come in its path – in this case, Eliza. She later echoes these sentiments, calling Higgins a ‘motorbus: all bounce and go, and no consideration for anyone.’ Shaw presents us with a figure who, for all his intellectual merits, is blind to the emotions of others and the immorality of his toying with a living girl; one who evidently has an integrity and pride (‘you got no right to touch me’).

The sense of a pervading obliviousness among the upper class is perpetuated by the figure of Clara in a later scene in Mrs Higgins’ apartment. The brusque ‘Ahem!’ of Higgins abruptly interjects the free-flowing ramblings of Eliza, and as such marks a pointed contrast in the tempo of the conversation, breaking away from a period that rather resembles a stream of consciousness now that Eliza is ‘at ease’, acts in this way as an obvious cue as to Eliza’s true identity and social standing. Despite this, Clara’s social ineptitude perhaps equals that of Eliza, as she fails to recognize this. Furthermore, she fails to see that the subject matter of which Eliza speaks; men drinking themselves ‘cheerful and loving-like’, is entirely inappropriate, instead justifying it; ‘it’s all right, mamma, quite right.’ The repetition of ‘right’ evokes a sense that Clara is very steadfast and headstrong in her view, which only exacerbates the irony of it as she continues to make a mockery of herself. She fails to pick up on the scarcity of money in Eliza’s past (‘fourpence’) and is instead so focused on her ‘elegant diction’ that she disregards the plain inconsistency of what Eliza is saying, which is so in contrast to the setting; the prim ‘Elizabethan chair’ and later, the ‘ottoman’, both being symbols of luxury, comfort and wealth. Through the character of Clara, Shaw suggests that members of the upper class are so obsessed with status and outward appearances that they are blinded by their concerns of being perceived as ‘old-fashioned’.

In contrast, Mrs Pearce’s sole concern, when introduced to the ‘folly’, is morality. The density of punctuation in her utterance ‘Yes; but-’ create a fragmented and conflicted voice which is strained by an aghast disdain for Higgins’ treatment of Eliza, which she evidently views as immoral. As Higgins ‘resort[s]’ to ‘his best elocutionary style’ to woo Eliza, complete with the alliteration and hyperbole of his assertion that the ‘streets will be strewn with the bodies of men shooting themselves’ for her, the dramatic and almost poetic language is intended by Higgins to sweep Eliza away – he is proud of this linguistic prowess which he assumes she has never experienced before, and therefore believes she will simply do as he says in accordance. Mrs Pearce however, is the foil to this ardent language with her blunt interjection, ‘nonsense’. She deals in the sphere of morality and reality, saying that Higgins ‘mustnt talk like that to [Eliza]’ and ‘must be reasonable’. She is ‘resolute’, and a symbol of maternal care for Eliza, as she runs to Mrs Pearce and Pickering, her consort in morality, for ‘protection’. Without Mrs Pearce and Pickering, the character of Higgins would be far less evocative than he is; these characters prove that, unlike the common perception of the time, a disparity in social class does not automatically permit someone to berate and dehumanize someone, as Higgins does to Eliza.

After her transformation is complete, Eliza laments that she is ‘a slave now, for all [her] fine clothes’. Here, the word ‘for’ introduces a tone and voice of regret, despite being surrounded by the luxury of ‘fine clothes’. Unlike Clara, Eliza is not concerned with this sense of luxury or the intellectual ‘treasures’ of Higgins, and instead has a more internalized, personal view of the situation, as she yearns only for her ‘independence’, the simple life of the ‘flower basket’, this acting as a very natural image that is concurrent with Eliza’s purity and emblematic of her as a character. This aids in developing the audience’s sense of Eliza as a character who values human, personable morals and qualities above all else. In this life, her appurtenances matched her social standing, instead of the disjointed existence with which she is now faced. During this dispute with Higgins, Eliza is described as ‘rising’, which creates a power and confidence around her character that is consistent with the ‘fierce’ protestations she makes against Higgins’ use of her. This description evokes a sense of growth in that, she was previously a figure that would cower in the ‘hurricane’ of Higgins – in their first meeting, she ‘steals back to her chair’, a submissive action which is now in stark contrast to her new found dynamism and courage. This ultimately reveals that before her transformation, Eliza was confined to, and defined by her class. She is now empowered by her transition, but no less moral than the ‘good girl’ that innocently came to Higgins for help. It is through the character of Eliza that the audience comes to understand that morality, as well as courage or intelligence, are not reserved for the upper class. Shaw’s characters constitute a diverse moral landscape, that exists irrespective of class, showcased by the character of Eliza who exists as a moral beacon at one end, and the unscrupulous (though affable) character of Higgins at the other, whose disregard for those he considers beneath him is depicted as deplorable. Class and morality are evidently mutually exclusive, and through ‘Pygmalion’ Shaw proves that there is essentially no excuse for being immoral; one’s class, or lack of, does not justify it.

The anti-romantic elements in Shaw’s “Pygmalion”.

The play Pygmalion can be viewed through the lens of an anti romantic play. From the beginning itself Shaw creates a notion on the reader’s mind that, the play will end up in the union of Professor Higgins and flower girl Eliza. But what happened was quiet opposite of the expectation. It is the title Pygmalion which sows the seeds of this notion in the readers mind, for they are familiar with the story of Pygmalion from the Greek classic. In the Greek classic the Pygmalion, the sculptor, who vows never to marry, but he falls in love with a girl’s statue that he has made, as the answer to the prayer of Pygmalion, God infuses the statue with life, and Pygmalion marries that girl called Galatea. Since Shaw’s play has the title Pygmalion, readers expect the same repetition of Greek classic here in Shaw’s play.

In Shaw’s play, Professor Higgins is the Pygmalion, who determined to polish the flower girl Eliza’s appearance and attitude and make her a lady. Eliza is the Galatea here. But she doesn’t get the affection and love from Higgins like Galatea experienced from Pygmalion. To Professor Higgins, Eliza was a tool for his experiment. His attempt to transform the flower girl Eliza to a charming beauty becomes a massive success when Eliza is mistaken as a Hungarian princess. But unlike the legendary Pygmalion Professor Higgins does not fall in love with the charming beauty of Eliza. He doesn’t dream a life with Eliza like Pygmalion. Neither does she lose her heart to him.

In the sequel after the fifth act of the play, Shaw clearly explains why marriage between Higgins and Eliza did not happen and should not happen. According to him such an end would indicate nothing but “lazy dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me downs of rag-shop in which Romance keeps its stock of happy ending to misfit all stories.” Shaw indicates that any woman who attempts to steal his heart will find the dice loaded against her, for his mother, with her personal grace, intelligence and dignity of character, has set a high standard before him. The nobility of his mother and its influence on him make him expect the same standard in the woman who he is going to marry. But reaching that level of dignity of character and intelligence is almost an impossible task for any woman. Moreover Higgins posses a domineering temperament and he likes to lord it on others. Eliza is a girl who doesn’t like to be ruled or controlled by anybody. Therefore she chooses Freddy who will certainly a good life partner for her, who can satisfy all her concepts. Since he doesn’t have a dictator type character like Higgins, obviously Eliza’s life will be happy and comfortable with him. Had she chosen Higgins as the expectations of the readers, their life would not have gone happily and resulted in separation.

Shaw processed an anti romantic temperament. Almost all the readers of the play feel that if the play had ended in the union of Eliza and Higgins, the play would have been far better than what it is now. The explanation for Eliza’s preference of Freddy to Higgins led the play to an unnatural and unconvincing end. The play seems to have developed contrary to Shaw’s predetermined conclusion. The last two acts are concerned largely with the emotional crisis in Eliza. If Higgins is secondary interest for her, she will not make herself indispensable to him. For all his arrogance, he has become dependent on her. Shaw has created an aura of romance around them. He stresses that Eliza is brimming with the vigor of youth and has the whole world to choose from. A. C. Ward points out,” although Higgins and Eliza might not have lived happily Ever After as the heroes and heroines of fairy tales usually do, they would certainly have been better matched then Eliza and the feeble Freddy could be”.

When the plot of a play moves in a different way from expectations, it becomes more interesting. It increases curiosity in the readers. But the same time it will invite criticism and appreciations from many corners. If fact the final twist is a victory of the playwright over the prejudiced minds of readers. Shaw was ready to face all the consequence of this. In his determination to make his Romance an unromantic, Shaw twisted the story of his play from what should have been, by the principles of drama, its natural end.

Romance: A Dramatic Convention from Shakespeare to ‘My Fair Lady’

Most writers find it extremely difficult to convey the feeling of love via the written word. In fact, many people feel inspired to write by that challenge alone. Love cannot be summed up in a sentence or a paragraph, let alone a song or a poem. Nobly, a few writers choose to write plays and musicals trying to sum up those elusive feelings of love, lust, and everything in between. Through the ages, a few dramatic conventions came into being in order to try to assist writers in their quest for describing love. In Broadway musicals, such as My Fair Lady, for instance, the plot must include a primary and secondary love story to keep the audience in rapture. The idea of the love triangle (or, in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a more extended love square) has also helped a lot of writers track their characters’ desires. Some plots, such as that of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, attempt to describe love in a more simple way by simply focusing on the relationship between two complex and infinitely human characters. When tracing all of these narratives, a metamorphoses occurs: the narrative structure that authors use has varied over time, and no form seems to be better than the other, as they all exist in their own worlds, just as lovers do.

Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, plays with the idea of the love triangle by making it a love square with four characters rather than just three for the sake of symmetry. Hermia, Helena, Demetrius, and Lysander all switch partners in the play multiple times in a comedic stab at how love, with all its complexities, can really be rather simple. Although each of these pairings in the love square have their own intricacies in their specific relationships to one another, Shakespeare’s extension of the classic love triangle really functions as the primary love story in the play. It almost seems like hyperbole when all of the characters almost become one at the end through a joint wedding in which their names are barely even distinguished from one another, with Demetrius referring to them all collectively as, “fair lovers” who are “fortunately met … For in the temple, by and by, with us/ These couples shall eternally be knit” (Shakespeare 4.I.177-81). The wedding scene in particular binds these four individual people into one, more symbolic entity, that being the normal primary romance in the play.

Dramatically speaking, all romantic plays and musicals seem to agree about the fact that there should be one primary romance going on to keep the audience focused and engaged. Shakespeare’s variation of the love triangle that uses four people instead of three heightens the audience’s interest even more than just two characters would, as these characters are all complex and relatable in their own ways. However, their love feels more subtle than that of more eccentric characters such as Titania and Bottom, which might be why their wedding was so overarching and vague about their persons. At most weddings, the ceremony highlights individual characteristics about each aspect of the couple. However, in this wedding, all four of them are consistently referred to under one categorical term, such as, “fair lovers” or “these couples.” The two relationships that might as well be one in the love square are meant to represent a normal and uncomplicated type of love that those in Shakespeare’s time admired.

Titania and Bottom, however, have a far more complex secondary love story going on here. In fact their story seems secondary because it might not be a story of love at all, rather it seems like a story of fantasy and forbidden perverted passion. Their story has to be less central because of its overtly sexual nature and how sexual media was far less fit for direct consumption than romantic media was (although Shakespeare was known to push these cultural boundaries). For example, Bottom and Titania are not equals in their story. Bottom is a mortal as ugly and plain as an ass (his transformation signifies their differences further) and Titania is not only a queen but also a fairy queen, which represents their class differences. Hermia, Lysander, Demetrius, and Helena are all of similar social statuses, so their love does not feel as forbidden as Titania’s and Bottom’s attraction to one another. The most unconventional aspect of Titania and Bottom’s relationship might be how attracted to Bottom Titania feels. For instance, when Bottom sings nonsense, Titania asks, “what angel wakes me from my flow’ry bed?/ … I pray thee, gentle mortal, sing again./ Mine ear is much enamored of thy note” (Shakespeare 3.I.112-22). In this quotation, Titania not only claims that Bottom, who literally looks like an ass, seems like an “angel,” but also acknowledges that he is, in fact, a “mortal.” Just these two words suggest how wrong it seems that Titania finds herself attracted to Bottom. Her desires seem even more perverse when they turn out as overtly sexual, with Titania finishing the scene with lines such as,

the moon, methinks, looks with a wat’ry eye,/ And when she weeps, weeps every little flower,/ Lamenting some enforced chastity./ Tie up my lover’s tongue, bring him silently (Shakespeare 3.I.177-80).

Perhaps Titania herself laments her own “enforced chastity” and ties up her “lover’s tongue” so that they do not need to speak about her forbidden desires. Her attraction towards Bottom, someone so much socially lower than her in every way, must feel especially shameful to her. Although this narrative has far more depth to it than the ordinary and expected story of the primary extended love triangle, Shakespeare, like Titania, faced societal obligations to keep the more eccentric love stories a bit subtler than that of his main characters.

In a somewhat similar fashion to the primary and secondary love stories in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, My Fair Lady follows the Broadway structure of having a clear cut primary and secondary love story with songs for each. However, clearly modern theatrics have changed a bit, as in My Fair Lady, the secondary romance feels like the more conventional and less complicated one. This relationship of Doolittle and his bride is not nearly as unexpected as that of Titania and Bottom. After all, in the song “Get Me to the Church on Time,” Doolittle asks the townspeople to get him “to the church on time,” as he drinks too much to count on himself making it to his own wedding. While this song means to be comical, it has a rather serious element to it as well. This secondary relationship feels less complex than the secondary relationship in the earlier work of Shakespeare. Maybe the shift to more focus on the primary relationship in theatre and make that one more nuanced was just another way to entertain audiences. Or perhaps more modern writers felt more freedom to explore more controversial relationship troubles in an upfront manner.

Eliza and Higgins, for instance, have an extremely complicated primary relationship. Similarly to Bottom and Titania, they are entirely different people, from different classes and different positions (student and teacher, mortal and fairy). However, My Fair Lady’s plot focuses more on this complex and unexpected type of relationship than A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s plot does. Although both relationships are doomed, the characters in MFL try to work through their disappointment and sadness through song, making the relationship seem more complicated as the plot digs deeper into the content and context of what ends up happening with Eliza and Higgins. For instance, the song “Without You” stands to complicate the plot’s resolution: the end of the relationship between Higgins and Eliza. Not only are they parting ways in this song, but they are also explaining each and every reason why they find that action so poignant, with lyrics such as,

there’ll be spring every year without you … and there still will be rain/On the plain down in Spain, / Even that will remain/ Without you/ I can do/ Without you (Lerner II.213).

Although the lyrics do literally have Eliza and Higgins saying “I can do without you” to each other, the fact that they detail so many different events that they will have to do without one another gives the song a rather melancholy tone. For instance, throughout the song they realize all the events they will not be in each other’s lives for, that being circumstances such as “spring every year without you.” Although this song and the character’s emotions for one another might be less complex than Titania and Bottom’s romance, these primary characters are far more complex than the primary romance characters in Midsummer, perhaps because they do not get the same happy ending, which complicates a story line.

Oddly enough, although George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion falls in between Midsummer and My Fair Lady chronologically, it actually goes far outside the boundaries for typical theatrical relationships. Pygmalion focuses primarily on Eliza and her relationship with Higgins, and actually makes the entire relationship equally as complex as two couples. However it seems like a less well structured play than the other two especially in terms of romance, perhaps because Shakespearean drama and Broadway musicals have very specific genre conventions. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a classic example of a Shakespearean comedy, a very structured type of play. For instance,

The main characteristics in Shakespeare’s Comedies are: A struggle of young lovers to overcome problems, often the result of the interference of their elders, There is some element of separation and reunification, Mistaken identities, often involving disguise, A clever servant, Family tensions that are usually resolved in the end Complex, interwoven plot-lines, Frequent use of puns and other styles of comedy (Alliemacb)

Shakespeare structures his comedies this way for a reason – he found the best formula for keeping his audiences interested in what he had to say in his comedies. Shaw did not have such a clear formula, which explains why his romance plot in Pygmalion needed so much adjustment when Lerner and Loewe turned it into My Fair Lady, which one could argue is more well known than Pygmalion. For instance,

Musicals are almost always about pairs, complementary halves of a whole, initially at odds because of age, race, ethnicity, customs, attitudes, values, backgrounds, social status, manners, prejudices, competence, work ethic, appearance, or desires. Musicals often treat courtship, the attempt to convince another to adopt one’s attitudes or to adapt one’s own actions to another, as a metaphor for life itself. (Kowalke)

Shaw’s plays sometimes have a relatively loose sense of structure, which explains why the exposition of Eliza and Higgins’ romance was so messy and drawn out. For instance, because of all the plot that Lerner dedicates to Higgins and Eliza’s relationship, the audience gets to know so much more about the intricacies of their relationship than they would in any Shakespeare play or Broadway musical. At the start of the play, Shaw even describes something as tangential as Higgins’ opinions about women, writing,

A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon (1.125).

Unlike a Shakespeare stock character or a ingenue in a Broadway musical would never have time to develop such convoluted even if bigoted views on something as specific as language or gender. Thus Eliza and Higgins have a more complex relationship than the other couples because Lerner devotes so much of the plot to developing their characters.

By the time Eliza and Higgins have their final meeting, Shaw has given the audience such a complex portrayal of not only both of their characters but also their relationship that their ending becomes ambiguous. Eliza leaves, then Higgins asks to no one, “Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?” (Shaw II.219). Because of Eliza and Freddy and the strange dichotomy of their teacher student relationship as well as their originally differing classes, the audience can only guess at what becomes of them, which explains why My Fair Lady was altered so much plotwise. An ambiguous ending was less possible in the musical because due to the conventions of musicals there is not as much time to set up such complex characters that would warrant an ambiguous ending.

The three different conventions of these narratives each add to the goals of each of their individual genres. Shakespeare’s comedy structure with his confused lovers let him tackle more provocative subject matter in terms of Titania and Bottom in a crafty and subtle way. Although the characters are more complex in Pygmalion than My Fair Lady, the character’s in Shaw’s plays serve to be complex and relatable while musicals are more for placid entertainment. These observations are significant because they show how much theatre conventions have changed in a back and forth manner over not only decades but also centuries.

Works Cited

Alliemacb. “The Main Characteristics of Shakespearean Plays: Comedy, Tragedy, History.” LetterPile. LetterPile, 10 May 2016. Web. 09 May 2017. .

Georgius. My Fair Lady. New York: Roy, 1954. Print.

Kowalke, Kim. “THEORIZING THE GOLDEN AGE MUSICAL: GENRE, STRUCTURE, SYNTAX*.” Tennessee.edu. N.p., 2014. Web. 9 May 2017. .

A Midsummer Nights Dream. Cambridge: U, 1936. Print.

Shaw, Bernard. Pygmalion. United States: Createspace, 2015. Print.W

The Insecurity of Mister Higgins: A Close Reading of a Multi-Sided Character

In the play Pygmalion, we get to know Mister Higgins as a man who knows what he wants, he is not afraid to say what he thinks and he acts like nobody can tell him what to do. But even though he looks a bit arrogant, self-assured and bossy, he is actually quite insecure. When the situation gets tough; he makes jokes so that people leave him alone and when he lets certain people overrule him, he does not admit it; he tries to overrule people with actions so he avoids directly answering them and he knows how to play people so they will do what he wants them to do. So I will elaborate on the ways Mister Higgins tries to avoid showing his insecurity throughout the play.

When the girl Eliza accepts to become Higgins’s trainee, the housekeeper Mrs. Pearce, takes her upstairs for a bath and some new clothes. Mrs. Pearce reappears before Eliza does, to speak to Mister Higgins about the high amount of swearwords he uses in his speech and if he wants to be careful not to use gutter language in front of Eliza. Mister Higgins replies: ‘I swear! I never swear. I detest the habit. What the devil do you mean?’ Then Mrs. Pearce replies: ‘That’s why I mean, sir. You swear a great deal too much. I don’t mind your damming and blasting, and what the devil and where the devil and who the devil -’. Finally Mister Higgins interrupts Mrs. Pearce: ‘Mrs. Pearce: this language from your lips! Really!’ (Quotes from: Pygmalion, Act II). As you can see, Mrs. Pearce speaks to Mister Higgins to show him that he does something wrong. She asks him to change that and rather than agreeing with her or telling her off for speaking to him like that, he listens to her and then makes a joke about her language. This means that the spotlight is not on him anymore and that it does not seem all that big of a deal. But the fact that Mister Higgins does not accept Mrs. Pearce’s advice right away shows that Mister Higgins is not accustomed admitting his faults because he never makes them, in his work that is. In his social life he apparently makes mistakes but he does not admit it. So when the situation gets tough, he can make a joke so that people will be put off by it and stop commenting on him. At another time, Mister Pickering asks Mister Higgins something about women, how he thinks about them and how he acts among them. Mister Pickering does so since Mister Higgins is a bachelor and he now has a girl, Eliza, staying in his house for three months to improve her accent. This might raise a question or two with the people in the street and with Mister Pickering himself since he also feels responsible for the project and the girl. Mister Higgins probably has been asked a lot of questions about women and why he still is a bachelor.

At the start of the 20th century it was unheard of to be a bachelor for such a long time as Mister Higgins is. His exact age is not mentioned in the play but he does pronounce the following sentence: ‘So here I am, a confirmed old bachelor, and likely to remain so.’ (Pygmalion, Act II). This sentence insinuates that he has not had a woman, at least for a long time, and he is of a respectable age. So when Mister Pickering asks him about how respectable he is with women, Mister Higgins replies with a monologue about what he hates about women and being with them. But Mister Pickering is not easily put off, and he asks for an example so that Mister Higgins has to explain himself, which he does again in monologue style, trying to express his feelings against women as clearly as possible to Mister Pickering. Mister Higgins mentions things as: ‘I find that the moment I let a woman make friends with me, she becomes jealous, exacting, suspicious and a damned nuisance. (…) Women upset everything. When you let a woman in your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you’re driving at another.’ (Pygmalion, Act II). When Mister Higgins and Mister Pickering visit Mister Higgins’s mother; Mrs. Higgins, they tell her about Eliza. Mrs. Higgins wants to know straight away if her son fell in love with the girl because she wants him to marry.

Mrs. Higgins takes her son out of his comfort zone and he answers her, but he immediately shows his uncertainty: ‘Oh, I can’t be bothered with young women. My idea of a loveable woman is something as like you as possible. I shall never get into the way of seriously liking young women: some habits lie too deep to be changed. [Rising abruptly and walking about, jingling his money and his keys in his trouser pockets]’ (Pygmalion, Act III). Mister Higgins wants to switch subjects quickly so he starts talking about Eliza again, because he has planned to let her come over to his mother’s house without her knowing, Mister Higgins knows this troubles his mother a great deal so she won’t ask him difficult questions anymore. The reason why Mister Higgins reacts like this is to make clear what he thinks about women, or what he wants people to believe he thinks about women, so that they stop asking difficult questions which might bring him into a tough situation. To prevent becoming insecure in front of people he tries to overrule people by giving them enough reasons to make his point and leave him alone. When Mister Higgins arrives at a new situation, he wants to have the upper hand to stay in his comfort zone and to chase his opponent out of his comfort zone. He forces him to the place where Mister Higgins wants him to be, so that he cannot only win the argument, but also to let his opponent feel inferior to him. The father of Eliza is one of his opponents in a new situation. Mister Higgins never had a girl in his house for such an experiment. The father probably never entered a house of a rich person as Mister Higgins’s and has never given his daughter for an experiment.

When Mister Doolittle, Eliza’s father, visits Mister Higgins, he wants to receive money for his daughter because he is actually giving her away. Mister Higgins assumes that money is the reason why the father has paid him a visit, but Mister Higgins does not want to give him too much and preferably as little as possible. So he decides to be unpredictable so he can get Mister Doolittle in the place he wants. Without Mister Doolittle mentioning a thing about money, Mister Higgins tells him to take his daughter home because he probably has set her up to come to Mister Higgins’s house for the experiment, and he threatens to call the police. Mister Doolittle is flabbergasted with the situation and he changes his attitude towards Mister Higgins. Mister Higgins says to the father: ‘You’re going to take her away, double quick. [He crosses to the hearth and rings the bell]’ Mister Doolittle replies: ‘No Governor. Don’t say that. I’m not the man to stand in my girl’s light. Here’s a career opening for her, as you might say; and-’. Mister Higgins presses the father rather hard, but he is willing to see how far he can go with this. When Mrs. Pearce answers the bell and enters the room, he says: ‘Mrs. Pearce: this is Eliza’s father. He has come to take her away. Give her to him.’ Mister Doolittle is completely taken aback with this and when Mrs. Pearce is taking him to the door he says to Mister Higgins: ‘Listen here, Governor. You and me are men of the world ain’t we?’ Mister Higgins replies: ‘Oh! Men of the world, are we? You’d better go, Mrs Pearce. (…) The floor is yours Mister Doolittle.’ (Pygmalion, Act II). Mister Higgins makes Mister Doolittle think that he is winning him over. But the fact of the matter is that Mister Higgins has pressed the father so hard that he is cautious what he says to Mister Higgins and that he cannot ask too much for his daughter, otherwise he will be thrown out and then he has nothing at all. This exactly what Mister Higgins wants; he has the upper hand and he has made sure that the father, his opponent, thinks that he cannot be trifled with.

Mister Higgins knows what it is like to feel uncomfortable, so he wants his opponent to feel that way, and he himself feels superior to his opponent. Mister Higgins is quite a clever man when it comes to phonetics. But when it comes to being sociable, he lacks the actual skills to admit his fault and he switches topics to let himself enter his comfort zone again. He acts rather bossy and arrogant to his opponents so he can overrule them, like he did with Mister Doolittle. When somebody has a higher intellect, his mother or Mister Pickering, or when somebody knows him quite well, as Mrs. Pearce does, he changes the subject. He does this by talking about something that might occupy the opponent’s mind more or makes a joke so does not have to accept his faults that are being described. This way he seems arrogant, bossy and very strong, but he actually is as insecure as a secondary school pupil.

The Creator of a Lady: The Illusion of Empowerment in the Reformation of the Female Identity in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion

I am too intelligent, too demanding, and too resourceful for anyone to be able to take charge of me entirely. -Simone de Beauvoir Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre

This paper seeks to examine and analyze, as portrayed in G. B. Shaw’s Pygmalion, the reformation of Eliza Doolittle’s identity into being socially acceptable by Henry Higgins- a man who gives himself the status of her creator. It discusses, from a Liberal and Marxist-Socialist Feminist perspective, the outward improvement of her manners as illusory empowerment as well as her loss of control over her own source of livelihood, and her eventual consciousness of it. It also discusses the differences in societal expectations from men and women, and the hypocrisy therein, and the audience’s preoccupation with a happy ending.

A play that starts out as an interesting peek into the world of linguistics is artfully transformed by George Bernard Shaw into a deeper commentary on society and its effect on gender identity. In Pygmalion, Shaw portrays the nuances of class and gender relations through an engaging plot centered on a flower-girl and a Professor of Linguistics playing their part in a fateful bet. Professor Henry Higgins’ initial interest in Eliza is more in terms of her as an object of a casual experiment to impress his colleague, Colonel Pickering, than as a flower girl who could use some help with her speech:

THE NOTE TAKER. You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir, in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party. I could even get her a place as lady’s maid or shop assistant, which requires better English. (Shaw 12)

The act of wanting to change Eliza’s identity altogether shows that she was viewed as a person essentially lower than Higgins or Pickering. Her identity on account of her social standing is automatically deemed to be of no real consequence. Higgins barely seems to think of her as a living, breathing person, let alone a woman who deserves to be treated with dignity no matter what her social standing— simply on the premise that she is a fellow human being. To Higgins, her potential is not much more than to be a badge of his linguistic prowess. Eliza as a flower girl might lack genteel manners but is seen, however, to be well aware of her rights and does not like people walking over her, no matter how high they might be on the social ladder. She feels threatened by Higgins because of his mysterious note-taking, and under the seemingly pointless hue and cry that she raises are several statements showing a sense of personhood:

THE FLOWER GIRL. [Still preoccupied with her wounded feelings] He’s no right to take away my character. My character is the same to me as any lady’s… (Shaw 10)

THE FLOWER GIRL. [With feeble defiance] I’ve a right to be here if I like, same as you. (Shaw 11)

These statements, it can be argued, are a result of living a life of poverty and hardship- of being a flower-girl in a city like London. She almost has no option but to believe in herself if she has to survive on the streets. Eliza might lack carriages and jewels, but her source of livelihood is her own work. The productivity flows out of her directly and she does not have to depend on society’s acceptance of her to live her life. She is an independent woman, against all odds.

Eliza as a flower girl is a woman belonging to the proletariat- empowered as a worker because she does not have the luxury of choice. Mary Wollstonecraft in her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, attempts to show us how affluence worked against eighteenth-century, married, bourgeois women. Wollstonecraft compared such “privileged” women (whom she hoped to inspire to a fully human mode of existence) to members of “the feathered race,” birds that are confined to cages and that have nothing to do but preen themselves and “stalk with mock majesty from perch to perch”. Middle-class ladies were, in Wollstonecraft’s estimation, “kept” women who sacrificed health, liberty, and virtue for whatever prestige, pleasure, and power their husbands could provide (qtd. in Tong 13). Eliza Doolittle is pushed upwards to become one such middle-class woman with Higgins as her guardian instead of a husband.

Very often, these women were not allowed to exercise outdoors lest they tan their lily-white skin, they lacked healthy bodies and similarly, they were not permitted to make their own decisions so they lacked liberty. Since they were “discouraged from developing their powers of reason—given that a great premium was placed on indulging self and gratifying others, especially men and children—they lacked virtue” (Tong 13). Henry Higgins, by making a lady out of Eliza, takes away her brazen source of livelihood without presenting her with a new one. Her speech, her clothes, her manners, and even the subjects she wishes to speak of are carefully monitored and changed to suit a well-bred upper class lady. Economics, disease, and death are to be spoken of no more because she is not to think of realistic things or of earning her own money as a flower girl because she is far too sophisticated for a job like that. Her independence is deftly taken away as she becomes a plaything for the two linguists.

PICKERING. Higgins: I’m interested. What about the ambassador’s garden party? I’ll say you’re the greatest teacher alive if you make that good. I’ll bet you all the expenses of the experiment you can’t do it. And I’ll pay for the lessons.

LIZA. Oh, you are real good. Thank you, Captain.

HIGGINS. [Tempted, looking at her] It’s almost irresistible. She’s so deliciously low—so horribly dirty— (Shaw 20)

It is important to note here that Eliza is still under the impression that she is to profit greatly in economic terms from this experiment- florists would hire her once they saw that she could speak well. She doesn’t seem to foresee the social baggage that comes along with being a proper lady. Her initial idea of simple speech lessons snowballs into passing her off as a duchess at an upscale function, and one may say that her control over her life slips through her fingers at this point. In becoming ladylike, she automatically becomes a part of the bourgeoisie that has no dearth of wealth and can thereby afford to force women to stay at home; except she doesn’t have any of the wealth— only the superficial appearances of it. Upper class ladies are often a lot more oppressed than the working class women because they are never viewed as people who have the potential to be productive. They are seen almost as objects to be decorated and in turn used to decorate the house, to entertain the man’s guests with their perfect manners, and to produce heirs:

LIZA. Oh! if I only could go back to my flower basket! I should be independent of both you and father and all the world! Why did you take my independence from me? Why did I give it up? I’m a slave now, for all my fine clothes. (Shaw 79)

Eliza, by taking on the role of such a lady, is cut off from her decision making powers and is at the mercy of what Higgins, Pickering, or her father Alfred Doolittle choose to do with her. Since Alfred Doolittle comes into an unexpected fortune, he too is expected to take up the responsibilities of an upper class man- some of which involve looking after his daughter till she is married. Understandably, Doolittle seems to like the proletarian, free-of-norms life better than the bourgeois one with all its formalities. According to Rosemarie Tong, in Heidi Hartmann’s socialist-feminist interactive system of understanding class and gender, she talks about a sort of bargain that the bourgeois and proletarian men strike to keep proletarian women in check. Tong reiterates Hartmann’s observations saying: Only if all men—be they proletarian or bourgeoisie—could find some mutually agreeable way to handle this particular “woman question” could the interests of patriarchy and capitalism be harmonized. To some degree, this harmony was achieved when bourgeoisie men agreed to pay proletarian men a family wage large enough to permit them to keep their wives and children at home. (117)

The exchanges between Alfred Doolittle and Higgins regarding Eliza can be considered an example of this sort of understanding to keep Eliza where she is without giving her a choice in the matter. The transformation that occurs thereafter costs Eliza her freedom from the norms of upper class society. The question of Eliza is settled with the exchange of a few pounds between the two men. When the two linguists are cautioned about the territory they are treading on, they don’t seem to see any problem with taking charge of the identity of another human being:

MRS. HIGGINS. No, you two infinitely stupid male creatures: the problem of what is to be done with her afterwards.

HIGGINS. I don’t see anything in that. She can go her own way, with all the advantages I have given her.

MRS. HIGGINS. The advantages of that poor woman who was here just now! The manners and habits that disqualify a fine lady from earning her own living without giving her a fine lady’s income! Is that what you mean? (Shaw 54)

They dismiss any attempt at a solid plan for Eliza’s future by saying they will find her some “light employment” or get her married to someone who can provide for her. These statements are often made without any consultation with her, showing that the two men might really think they own her and can figure out what to do with her on their passing whims. She then is clay in the hands of Higgins, like Galatea in Pygmalion’s.

Higgins and Pickering become the “creators” of her identity here and then strip her of her old way of life along with her old clothing. Higgins sees her as his very own creation, as if he invented her, and his attachment towards her seems to consist mainly of familiarity and the liking one has for a pretty object one owns. Higgins moves from the position of her tutor to the position of her custodian.

MRS. HIGGINS. You certainly are a pretty pair of babies, playing with your live doll.

HIGGINS. Playing! The hardest job I ever tackled: make no mistake about that, mother. But you have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being by creating a new speech for her. It’s filling up the deepest gulf that separates class from class and soul from soul. (Shaw 52)

The female identity here is being bestowed on a seemingly un-ladylike woman who does not conform to the usual normative structures of society. Eliza has grown up with no knowledge of how to conduct herself in a socially acceptable way to upper class society. Her priorities were selling her flowers and having enough to eat and she wanted to keep her dignity for that no matter what. Higgins and Pickering, who are under the impression that they are fixing Eliza, are in fact not doing much apart from sharpening Eliza’s superficial conduct. Eliza is dressed in fancy clothing and taught how to speak ‘properly’. The content of her conversations in her first social meeting after she has begun working with Higgins is to be limited to the weather and everyone’s health. This shows that talking about anything heavy, serious, or simply realistic was considered to be against the norms for what good ladies chatted about. The linguists are at no point seen imparting any academic knowledge apart from phonetics to Eliza in spite of admitting a number of times that Eliza is rather quick with picking up what is taught. She is not pushed to think for herself or to analyze anything while Pickering and Higgins brainstorm all the time around her. She is told what she must do.

The two men work towards creating the perfect social doll, and do not care that in the process of creating this doll they’re pasting an identity that consists of an incredibly superficial skill-set on to a full woman- a woman who had initially come to them to work on her speech and make her economic condition improve. The female identity in this setting is judged as admirable or otherwise based on mainly outward appearances. At the Ambassador’s party, Eliza is well-liked because she’s pleasing to the eye and says all the right things. She creates an image of wealth and good breeding. Most of the people fawning over her would never want to socialize with someone who they know is a mere flower girl. She becomes an exquisite member of the “feathered race” (qtd. in Tong 13) that Mary Wollstonecraft talks about. Eliza, according to Higgins and Pickering, has most definitely benefitted from their experiment. They view her social acceptability, no matter how hollow, as a point of empowerment for her. Her loss of livelihood is not of much consequence to the two, and it is important to note that once their purses are taken away from her, her empowerment in terms of social hierarchy is not of much consequence in turn.

The idea that Eliza is being given the power to pierce upper class society is only a superficial mask for the loss of power she experiences in the decision making of her own life. Upper class societal norms are also seen differing with gender in the play, quite hypocritically. The loud and passionate behavior that Eliza is criticized heavily for is simply dismissed as a part of his personality when Higgins shows it. He curses, throws fits, is unbelievably moody, and in Mrs. Pearce’s words will often “walk over everybody” (Shaw 21) and is met with barely a stern word.

LIZA. You see it was so very difficult for me with the example of Professor Higgins always before me. I was brought up to be just like him, unable to control myself, and using bad language on the slightest provocation. And I should never have known that ladies and gentlemen didn’t behave like that if you hadn’t been there. (Shaw 72)

As Eliza says, any sense of respect and understanding that she may have gained from the experience was through the courtesy that Colonel Pickering shows her, and not from Higgins’ nearly tyrannical behavior. Higgins’ retort to this accusation is that he behaves the same with everyone, and that while Pickering treats even a flower girl like a duchess, Higgins would “treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl”. This statement, aside from an odd sense of equality, shows just how unimportant being respectable is to Higgins. This quality has been touted as a part of Higgins’ charm over the years by audiences, but might not be so easily acceptable if Eliza were to pick it up. Eliza is often criticized for being too emotional or for overreacting. This behavior, however, may stem from how society expects women to be and from the frameworks it creates for that purpose: Although Wollstonecraft did not use terms such as “socially constructed gender roles,” she denied that women are, by nature, more pleasure seeking and pleasure giving than men. She reasoned that if they were confined to the same cages that trap women, men would develop the same flawed characters. Denied the chance to develop their rational powers, to become moral persons with concerns, causes, and commitments beyond personal pleasure, men, like women, would become overly “emotional,” a term Wollstonecraft tended to associate with hypersensitivity, extreme narcissism, and excessive self-indulgence (qtd. in Tong 14).

Higgins seems to fit Wollstonecraft’s description of “emotional” rather well; he is extremely narcissistic and excessively self-indulgent. What is ironic, however, is that this term was often used to deride women. Eliza eventually manages to evade the illusory and deceptive “empowerment” that comes along with being a lady and resists conformity after realizing that her productivity has been snatched away from her. This can be roughly compared to the class consciousness before the struggle that Marxism describes; in this case it is more of an individual consciousness of being capitalized on.

She doesn’t remain a mere puppet for very long and snatches the controls of her life back from Higgins after fully understanding that she was a mere conquest post the Ambassador’s party. Moving swiftly away from the girl who did menial jobs around Higgins’ house such as fetching his slippers, she passionately asserts herself and flings his slippers right back at him. She uses the articulation that he has taught her to tell him that she will do as she pleases. In Shaw’s ending of the play, Eliza declares she won’t be seeing Higgins again, while he prattles off a list of errands for her to run. Eliza disdainfully asks him to them himself, and that is the last thing she says in the play. Her final statement shows what a long way Eliza’s identity has come- from an easily flustered flower girl, to a mere doll, and then to a smart and assertive woman. Adaptations of the play have often altered the ending to make it “happy”.

Arguably the most famous movie adaptation of it, My Fair Lady, shows Eliza returning to Higgins and speaking in her old flower girl way. These adaptations are quite the opposite of what Shaw was intending to do with the play and it prompted him to write a note on what happens after and why Eliza does not end up marrying Higgins for “Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion: his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable”( Shaw 97).

Paul Lauter while comparing two of Shaw’s plays discusses the changes made to them on popular demand: The usual perversions of Candida and Pygmalion are thus understandable: to make the plays suitable for musical comedy audiences, they must be bent into normally sentimental frames and fitted with stereotypic happy endings. The producer must, above all, give his house its dreams. But Shaw was out to make his subversive points; he could not, like his Don Juan, be content with the “romantic vowings and pledgings and until-death-do-us-partings” of sentimental marriage. He recognized, and displayed in both plot and dramaturgy, the need of the artist in a world of bourgeois cliches to adopt the strategies, not of silence, but certainly of ‘exile and cunning’. (19)

The audience’s need to see Eliza end up with Higgins shows just how much one can be blinded by a conventionally attractive man who in reality borders on abusive. According to Bárbara Cristina Gallardo: [T]he unrequited love between Eliza and Higgins is turned into a romance that pleased the audience; viewers become passive because they do not have to think of the reasons why there could not exist romance between Eliza and Higgins. In spite of that, they may think that that happened because the man has status and the girl is beautiful. (2)

In Shaw’s version of what happens after, however, Eliza does get back some of her own, marries Freddy who may not be rich and influential but is respectful towards her, and runs her own shop with the regular ups and downs of life. In a society that bombards women with behavioral norms and gives their outward appearances excessive importance, Eliza Doolittle, because and in spite of this very society, remains a formidable literary model for the formation of the female identity.

Works Cited:

Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion. 1916. New Delhi: Peacock Books, 2013. Print.

Gallardo, Bárbara Cristina. “Why can’t women talk like a man?: an investigation of gender in the play Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw”. Florianópolis: Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, 2001. Web. 10 October 2016.

Lauter, Paul. “”Candida” and “Pygmalion”: Shaw’s Subversion of Stereotypes”. The Shaw Review, Vol. 3, No. 3 (September 1960): 14-19. JSTOR. 10 October 2016.

My Fair Lady. Dir. George Cukor. Perf. Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison. Warner Bros., 1964. DVD.

Rowley, Hazel. Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre. London: Chatto & Windus, 2006. Epub.

Tong, Rosemarie. Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction. Boulder: Westview Press, 2009. Print.

Victorian Society in Pygmalion

In Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Shaw attacks the relations between Victorian era classes by exposing their wretched treatment of the lower class, as seen in the flower girl, by the higher classes, upper and middle, iconified in Higgins and Mrs. Pearce, respectively. These characters’ condescension towards Eliza, exhibited by Higgins’ objectification and Mrs. Pearce’s rejection, reflect their negative, biased, and condescending feelings towards Eliza, and thus, the lower class. Shaw critiques this by juxtaposing these ideals against Eliza’s claim that she is just like any other gentlewoman of the upper class and deserves treatment as such, voicing Shaw’s opinion that these prejudices against the poor are unfounded and persuading the audience to feel the same.

At the beginning of the scene, Shaw features a conversation between Higgins and Pearce about Eliza, the flower girl. Pearce tells Higgins that a young woman, Eliza, wants to speak with him, but she calls the girl “common”, “queer”, and her accent, “dreadful.” Even though Mrs. Pearce lets Eliza in, there was obvious reluctance in doing so. Pearce’s prejudiced jibes at Eliza, specifically about her appearance and wealth, exemplify the condescension towards the lower class through their negative connotations. On the other hand, Mrs. Pearce’s use of the word dreadful could also have been meant to describe Pearce’s own inability to interpret what Eliza was saying, considering the stark difference in dialect of the two. Pearce later goes on to doubt Eliza’s financial standing by considering her, “a foolish, ignorant girl” for considering herself able to “afford to pay Mr. Higgins.” Shaw portrays Pearce in this light in order to urge the audience, who most likely have similar predispositions as Pearce, to abandon such prejudices and judge a person based on their qualities, not class.

Higgins, after Pearce leaves, furthers the degradation of Eliza before she even enters the scene, by completely objectifying her. Rather than seeing her as a person with thoughts and feelings, Higgins sees her as a tool to create another of his phonetic records, something to turn on “as often as you like.” Higgins does not see Eliza as an equal. Her class makes her so “low” that she is not even considered an individual but an object. Eliza is considered undesirable, and thus, should not be there. However, one could argue that Higgins is pressured by society to participate in the common practice of verbal invective against the lower class. He mostly likely knows no other way to interact with the lower class than this cruel one which has been modeled for him since birth. Thus, one could see Higgins actions as not the fault of himself, but the fault of societal expectations of the upper class and how these expectations force people to mold to them.

Higgins even goes so far as to say he has enough of the “Lisson Grove lingo”, meaning she is not a unique individual, but can be replaced by any other who speaks similarly, like the interchangeable parts of the Industrial Revolution. Higgins’ disrespect of Eliza is continued once she enters, when he furthers his objectification of her by saying, because she is of no use, she should be turned away. Higgins eventually goes so far as to call Eliza “baggage.” This disregard of Eliza and treatment iconifies the upper class disregard of the impoverished, even to the point of complete objectification of the class, that was so prevalent in Victorian Era society. Through further observation, Shaw uses Higgins as an attempt to show the cruelty of these practices in order to have the audience sympathize with the poor Eliza and encourage them, in turn, to sympathize with the poor and not merely objectify or ignore them.

Eliza, once on stage, voices her opinion, in effect, Shaw’s opinion, on their treatment, Pearce’s and Higgins’, of her. She quite feistily states she will pay for her lessons, foiling the stereotype of the lower class always looking for a handout. She wishes for them to treat her like a lady, which she is, but everyone seems incredulous to the idea, reflecting the upper class view of lower classes being crude and uncultured. However, Eliza firmly states that she is “like any lady.” Eliza is reflecting the idea that class does not reflect a person’s character and should not. She voices the idea of Shaw that all are equal, no matter their class or creed. Shaw is attempting to persuade the readers to side with Eliza and believe the epithet that all deserve to be treated as are the upper class.

On the other hand, it is just as terrible of Eliza to be so quick to judge Higgins at the end of the passage, when she accuses him of being drunk. This accusation seems unfounded, and poses the idea that even the lower class, again exemplified through Eliza was also prejudiced. This may be Shaw continuing his attack of prejudices and stereotypes, believing that no one should have them, not even the lower class whom most prejudices are aimed towards. Eliza could also be a representation of the contradictions of the Victorian era. She in a way, contradicts herself, by wanting to be treated like an upper class woman, yet she is prejudiced of the upper class. This reflects the how many in the Victorian era, like today, held contradictory beliefs. This includes the idea of pitying the poor, but blaming them for their poverty and despite high intolerance for crime, many were involved in criminal activities, such as prostitution and domestic abuse. Shaw is critiquing the absurdity of these positions.

Shaw uses the objectification of Higgins, the condescension of Pearce, and the assertions of Eliza to communicate an important message to his readers that the society in which they live, Victorian society with its social hierarchies and prejudices is wrong and should be dismantled. He persuades the audience to do this by encouraging sympathy for Eliza and attacking both Higgins’ and Pearce’s treatment of her. Shaw wants the audience to reform themselves and judge people based on attributes, not class, a very egalitarian point of view.