The Importance of Mr, Doolittle
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.
Social Distinction and Personal Appearance Masking the Reality
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 faÃ§ade 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.
The Process of Personally Designing a Scene of Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw
My group and I decided to do our project on Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw. I chose to be the scene designer. This paper will discuss my process in designing the scene for the Act (scene) we are focusing on. My group decided to focus on Act 4 of Pygmalion because there were several other scene changes in the play and because this act is one of the main points of the play. I will also be discussing what I found in my research for Pygmalion. Now can you guess what the first thing I did for this project?
The very first thing I did for Pygmalion was read the script! (Joe always in class made sure this was the first step). When I finished reading the play, I then drew a very quick rough sketch of what came into my mind when I read Act 4. Then I met with my group and we decided that the main theme or spine of the play was about how people were using each other. Eliza was using Higgins to get up in the world and Higgins and Pickering were using her to win a bet. It was also decided that another theme of the play was about how we view people initially is how we keep on seeing them. Higgins saw Eliza as a flower girl, so that’s what she always will be to him. Pickering on the other hand saw her a lady, so she will always be a lady to him. With this in mind, I began to do some research to improve my design for Pygmalion.
After discovering what the spine was of the play, I looked for elements that would help me tie the design in with the spine. Now Pygmalion was written in 1913. This is also that same period the play takes place in. It takes place in London, England. During 1913 London was a time of Industrial Revolution. There was also the women’s suffrage movement, which the author Bernard Shaw may have implanted and shown how women were treated back then. The Industrial Revolution bought wealth and cars to much of England. This caused a class system of the rich and the poor, which Shaw may also have been making a statement about. So I decided to implement high class items into my scene design. Also, in the play, when Higgins enters the room, he throws his coat on the newspaper stand without a care, while Pickering hesitates when he does it. This can show that Higgins doesn’t care when he uses Eliza, and Pickering at least cares a little bit. So my design will dress up the newspaper stand and have more of a showcase to show how they are using it for chores, just like they did Eliza. I then defined what the design demands or (what the play specially calls for) of Pygmalion were. I then researched pattern design styles of chairs of the time period because in the play Higgins and Pickering are sitting on chairs and talking. Eliza is also sitting on a piano bench. There is also mention of a mantle piece. So these items I definitely needed. These were what the design demands were for the scene. I then drew a second better design from these ideas. Then I gathered pictures from the time period of the items I needed to make a third and final design. I then transferred that design to a model of what my scene will look like. This is how I designed the scene for Act 4 of Pygmalion. I implemented items from the time period and items that went with the spine of the play.
Demolishing Class Barriers in Pygmalion
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 Didactic Discourse of the Text
Years before he became the greatest living writer of comedy, Shaw was an ardent social reformer. “My conscience”, he once wrote, “is the genuine pulpit article; it annoys me to see people comfortable when they ought to be uncomfortable; and I insist on making them think…” Shaw’s brand of socialism never won many converts, but his wit did shock people into thinking.
In ‘Pygmalion’ he finds a mouthpiece in the highly original character of Alfred Doolittle, a chimney sweep, who admits he is one of the “undeserving poor” and openly glories it. Just because he is undeserving, Doolittle demands that Professor Higgins pay him 5 pounds for using his daughter Eliza for experiments in phonetics. “I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more.” For the suggestion, “Why don’t you marry that missus of yours”, Doolittle replies “I’m willing. It’s me that suffers by it. I’ve no hold on her. I got to be agreeable to her…I’m a slave to that woman” Higgins is so amused by this paradoxical logic that he gives the undeserving Doolittle 5 pounds.
Shaw used detailed stage directions to retain a degree of control over the performance. For Shaw, unless a play has some “use”, it is without value. There is an acknowledged didactic function. Shaw brought forward the idea of the “sugar-coated pill”. Throught the detailed stage directions, the focus is much better defined by Shaw. With Shaw, idea has primacy and then plot comes.
Pygmalion deals with some fascinating themes, not the least of which is female emancipation. Higgins himself admires independence but, in turning Eliza into a model lady, he creates a creature unable to stand on her own. As a flower girl, Eliza had independence and a job, lowly as it was; as a lady, her options are considerably narrower.
Shaw brings forth the function of the environment. He shows that class-distinction is founded upon the varied environmental situations rather than lineage. In the beginning of the play, we see how Higgins engages himself to place any person from the manner of his speech. In Eliza’s case, when her manner of speech with the Cockney accent is replaced by fine eloquence of a lady, her status is automatically raised.
The play Pygmalion also deals with the futility of social barriers. The very challenge that Higgins takes up to pass Eliza, an uneducated…as a duchess within six months makes this conception of social barriers baseless. Shaw mocks at this feeble social demarcation that can be easily overcome in such a short period of time. Eliza’s ambitious nature and zest for life ultimately bring her success. With her perseverance, Eliza finally climbs the social ladder, suggesting the vulnerability of social distinction.
Moreover, Alfred Doolittle is a licentious man, enough to sell his daughter for a meagre amount of five pounds. Our conventional morality is shaken when he explains why his woman prefers to remain his mistress instead of becoming his wife. It is an outrageous comment on the very institution of marriage. Shaw brings out the mindset of the people of his times.
Shaw highlights some social issues that elucidate how unfair discriminations are meted out to poor people. Doolittle calls himself an “undeserving poor”, a caustic remark upon his wretched condition. He is victimized by unfair means of the social system. Shaw denounces the social system that fails to encourage the moral and financial upliftment of the poor people. Instead, it degrades their poor condition, by putting a stigma of “undeserving” before them, thereby encouraging them to indulge in more wrongful acts. Shaw’s enemy is Capitalism and Imperialism. The disparity of the acquisition of wealth becomes a target of Shaw’s criticism.
The sudden acquisition of wealth raises the status of the Doolittles, however, they do not earn self-respect unlike Eliza. As a person, Alfred Doolittle is more irresponsible. He does not know how to spend all the money thus claiming that acquiring wealth to enter society has “ruined me”.
Furthermore, the importance of phonetics and enunciation is highlighted in the play Pygmalion. It is one of the means through which the social barrier is eradicated. Eliza turns into an elegant, sophisticated woman by learning the nuances of pronunciation from Higgins. This emphasizes the significance of phonetics in social reformation.
Shaw began his career as an advocate of Fabian Socialism. As a socialist he believes in a classless society. The weakness of such class demarcation comes up as the target of Shaw’s inimitable mockery. Both Eliza and Doolittle are victims of uneven distribution of wealth and both of them eventually transcend their class, however, their development does not occur simultaneously. The moral development of Eliza makes her distinct from the Doolittles. The vulnerability of class distinction constitutes the essential message of the play.
Superficiality of the Upper Class and Society’s Expectations
In comparing the Edwardian era – that is, the early 20th century – to the modern age, we can see that some distinct social constructs and class systems are present in both. However, social and class-related barriers are noticeably more porous in today’s world. George Bernard Shaw’s most famous play Pygmalion, set in Edwardian times, was perhaps a harbinger of this progressive shift, in its vigorous attempts to discredit and expose the superficiality of the class separations. The ‘heroine’ of the play, Eliza Doolittle, undergoes a dramatic and severe transformation from a ‘draggletailed guttersnipe’ to an unrecognizably polished lady, but she ultimately fails to integrate smoothly into the society which she so idolized at the play’s beginning. It is established and perpetuated throughout the play that Eliza is not exactly a predictable character: for a poor flower girl, she upholds moral decency and exhibits self-respect to a degree perhaps not even mirrored by the upper class with which these values were more commonly associated. Through the character of Eliza, and the treatment of Eliza by the upper class, Shaw exposes the superficiality of a class system which, in his view, is underpinned by a very shallow preoccupation with appearance and language. While it is evident from the preface that Shaw places great value on the power of language and the respect that it commands, through Pygmalion and its characters such as Doolittle, we also learn that control and mastery of language are not the be all and end all of a person’s character. High society however, seems not to notice this, and it is this cursory judgement of others by members of the upper class that Shaw aims to condemn through Pygmalion.
Early on, Eliza is very much the poor flower girl and street beggar who would have been a typical nuisance to the upper class theatre-goers who were expected to view Pygmalion; however, Eliza’s true self is anything but typical. Her complex character is gradually unfurled through aspects of her speech such as her frequent proclamations of her being ‘a good girl’, helping to convey her innate self-respect, and her later insight that she ‘sold flowers. [She] didn’t sell [herself].’ The upper class in Edwardian society generally held a steadfastly negative view of the poor like Eliza: it was presumed that in order to make ends meet, someone like Eliza would have resorted to selling her body. Eliza however, breaks this mould, and the audience becomes privy to Eliza’s seemingly unusual self-respect. Some of this is due to the unorthodox length of Shaw’s narrations, such as his description of Eliza being ‘as clean as she can afford to be’. This morality and decency can easily be compared to the values of the upper class, who are depicted throughout the play as treasuring morality, conveyed by their horror at Eliza’s careless attitude towards her father’s alcoholism, and their disdain towards her use of expletives. Furthermore, a sense of Eliza’s aspirations is conveyed through the fashion board of dresses, far beyond her means, which she keeps in her bleak lodgings, and by the ‘American alarum clock’. These possessions show her idolization of the upper society’s culture. Combined with her morality, her aspirations present to the audience a character who is almost worthy of the upper class, her potential and integrity obscured by the roughness of her appearance and language.
Once Eliza’s qualities are revealed, the way in which Eliza is treated by members of the upper class is examined — and is meant to be viewed by the audience as unjustified. The sensitivity of Eliza’s own nature is paramount, and is constructed through lines which attempt to reverse the dehumanization of Eliza (and other members of the lower class) by members of the upper class who were expected to view the play. As Eliza declares, ‘I got my feelings same as anyone else’. Once the audience understands how sensitive Eliza really is, and understands her general decency and self-aspirations, Higgins’ suggestions to ‘throw her back on the street’ once she has been toyed with in his experiment becomes uncomfortable for the audience. Ultimately, the play’s viewers and readers are forced to confront and reflect upon their behavior with a consideration for members of the poor such as Eliza. The external features of Eliza, such as her speech and appearance, are what impede her being accepted by the higher class. The rejection she experiences is fundamentally a product of superficiality — of the obsession of the upper class with outward appearances despite morality, tenacity, and general amiability.
The character of Doolittle, Eliza’s father, diametrically opposes that of his daughter. He is neither moral, nor ambitious. He does not claim to be one of the ‘deserving poor’, instead working just enough to be able to splurge on a drinking spree now and again, and he rejects any substantial amount of money for fear of the need for better behavior that would come with it. He does however, have an unusual affinity for language, or as Higgins puts it, ‘a certain natural gift of rhetoric’. Hints towards the upper class’ preoccupation with language are lain when Higgins states that, with his natural talent for poetic and persuasive speech, Doolittle ‘could choose between a seat in the Cabinet and a popular pulpit in Wales’ under his teaching, conveying the overwhelming focus of high society on language. Despite the comical nature of this statement, what later transpires in the play is noticeably similar to Higgins’ quip. While this comedy can keep an audience of well-to-do people pleased with its line-by-line cleverness, it also eventually serves an ironic purpose. The fact that Doolittle does become successful in the upper class, despite the initial absurdity of this idea, speaks volumes about the shallow nature of high society. After all, this society accepts Doolittle based on his linguistic ability alone, disregarding his obvious moral flaws — and disregarding the elite’s general claim to champion decorum and virtue.
Many parallels can be drawn between the character of Eliza Doolittle and the upper class. She respects herself, and her moral integrity is constantly conveyed through her protestations against Higgins’ stereotypical treatment of her. Even though the upper class essentially considered itself the paradigm of morality and virtue, the barrier between Eliza being accepted into a higher social milieu is not a lack of morals (as would be expected from a street beggar) but her speech and appearance. Higgins’ phonetic clients, similarly, ‘give themselves away every time they open their mouths’. The upper class’ inability to accept Eliza despite her alignment with so many of their supposed views is made even more ironic, and more noticeably shallow, when her father (who is in many ways less praiseworthy) makes a roaring success of himself among the upper class. Through Pygmalion, and through these two characters, Shaw exacts a scathing criticism of the superficiality of the upper class under the guise of the comedy and drama of the play. Shaw states in his preface that all art should be didactic, and he seems to have achieved both didactic and satisfying art with Pygmalion. The well-to-do members of the audience are ultimately forced to consider whether their treatment of others can truly be justified, and whether others can simply be taken on face value alone.
The Summary of Pygmalion
Summary of Pygmalion On a summer season night in London’s Covent backyard, a gaggle of assorted persons are gathered collectively under the portico of St. Paul’s Church for security from the rain. Among the workforce are Mrs. Eynsford-Hill and her daughter, Clara, who are ready for the son, Freddy, to come back with a cab. When he returns in failure, he is again sent in search of a cab. As he leaves, he collides with a younger flower lady with a thick Cockney accent, and he ruins a lot of her flowers.
After he is gone, the mummy is keen on how any such “low” creature might comprehend her son’s title; she discovers that the flower girl calls every person either “Freddy” or “Charlie.” When an aged gentleman comes into the refuge, the flower woman notes his amazing appearance and tries to coax him to purchase some plants. This gentleman, Colonel Pickering, refuses to purchase the flowers, but he gives the girl some money. Individuals of the gang warn the lady in opposition to taking the cash when you consider that there is a man behind her taking notes of everything she says. When the flower girl (Eliza) loudly broadcasts that “I am a just right girl, I’m,” the bystanders begin to protest.
The observe taker, it turns out, is Professor Henry Higgins, an proficient in phonetics. His interest is deciding upon each person’s accent and location of birth. He even maintains that he might take this “ragamuffin” of a flower woman and educate her to speak like a duchess in three months. Right now, the elder gentleman identifies himself as Colonel Pickering, the writer of a booklet on Sanskrit, who has come to meet the famous Henry Higgins, to whom he’s now talking. The two go off to speak about their mutual curiosity in phonetics. The next morning at Professor Higgins’ house, the two guys are discussing Higgins’ experiments when the flower woman is introduced by means of Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper.
The girl, Eliza Doolittle, remembers that Higgins bragged about being able to coach her to converse like a duchess, and she or he has come to take lessons in order that she can get a role in a flower store. Pickering makes a wager with Higgins, who, in the spirit of fine activity, decides to take the wager: he orders Mrs. Pearce to take the girl away, scrub her, and burn her clothes. He overcomes all of Eliza’s objections, and Eliza is taken away. At the moment, Eliza’s father appears with the intention of blackmailing Higgins, however he’s so intimidated by Higgins that he finally ends up inquiring for five pounds on the grounds that he is without doubt one of the “not worthy terrible.” Higgins is so joyful with the historical fellow’s audacity and his particular view of morality that he gives him the five kilos and it is right away rid of him.
Sometime later, Higgins brings Eliza to his mother’s apartment in the course of her “receiving day.” Freddy Eynsford-Hill and his mother and sister Clara are additionally gift. These turn out to be the identical folks whom we noticed beneath the portico within the first act. Now, nevertheless, none of the visitors appreciate that Eliza is the “ragamuffin” flower girl of that nighttime. All people is amused with the pedantic correctness of her speech and are even more impressed with Eliza’s narration of her aunt’s dying, advised in perfect English, however informed with lurid and shocking details.
After Eliza’s departure, Mrs. Higgins features out that the girl is a long way from being competent to be offered in public. Sometime later, Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza return late in the night. The guys are delighted with the great success they’ve had that day in passing off Eliza as a first-rate duchess at an ambassador’s backyard occasion. They are so totally proud that they utterly ignore Eliza and her contribution to the success of the “experiment.” Infuriated, Eliza eventually throws a slipper at Higgins, most effective to be informed that she is being unreasonable. Eliza is worried with what will occur to her now that the experiment is over: Is she to be tossed again into the gutter; what is her future place? Higgins cannot see that this can be a problem, and after telling her that the entire garments that she has been carrying belong to her, he retires for the evening. The following day, Higgins arrives at his mom’s residence fully baffled that Eliza has disappeared. He has telephoned the police and is then amazed to be trained that Eliza is upstairs.
While waiting for Eliza, Mr. Doolittle enters and he accuses Higgins of ruining him because Higgins advised a wealthy man that Doolittle was England’s most normal moralist, and, therefore, the man left an enormous sum of money in trust for Doolittle to lecture on moral reforms. He has thus been pressured into center-type morality, and he and his common-regulation spouse are miserable. He has come to invite Eliza to his wedding, one other concession to dreadful middle-category morality. Eliza enters and consents to come to her father’s marriage ceremony.
As they, all prepare to go away; Higgins restrains Eliza and tries to get her to come back to his condo. He maintains that he treats everybody with whole equality. To him, he makes no social difference between the way he would treat a flower lady or a duchess. Eliza is decided to have recognize and independence, and consequently she refuses to come back to Higgins’ apartment. Higgins then admits that he misses her and admires her newfound independence. He additional keeps that she must return, and the three of them will reside equally, as “three bachelors.” Eliza, however, feels otherwise, and she leaves with Mrs. Higgins to attend her father’s wedding.
The Illusion of Empowerment in the Reshaping of the Female Identity
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.
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.
Corruption of innocence in ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Pygmalion’
The societal aspects of their writing made Dickens and Shaw two of the most influential figures of revolutionary and socio-political writing. William Blake, however, was also significant, especially through his work Songs of Innocence and Experience where he gave the marginalised figures of society a voice of their own. Blake attempted to emphasise the corrupted innocence of children. Charles Dickens’ writing has strong connections to Marxism however after this went out of fashion, ‘Dickens’s amorphous social critique came to seem more universally true because it was not programmatic but based on feelings of generosity and brotherhood combined with specific criticisms of practices common in England during his lifetime.’ One critic in particular suggests that Dickens was not aware of the radicalisation of his writing and the influences he was having on society, writing ‘The difference between Marx and Dickens was that Marx knew he was a revolutionist whilst Dickens had not the faintest suspicion of that part of his calling’.
George Bernard Shaw, in later years, then expanded upon Dickens’ ideologies. In an interview Shaw said that ‘The middle and upper classes are the revolutionary element in society; the proletariat is the conservative element’. This is shown in all of these authors’ writing as the proletariat is often punished and described harshly. The three authors base their writing strongly around social normalities in order to emphasise the impact that a strong desire can have on the mind. This is seen through the manipulation of the weaker characters whose innocence is often corrupted.
The desire for self-satisfaction by key characters in the novels and their willingness to manipulate others, usually the most naive, provides a sound base to explore whether or not innocence has been corrupted. The manipulatory figures in the novels are Miss Havisham, her desire to manipulate based upon her hatred of men, and Higgins’ with his constant need for personal enjoyment, which together place focus upon the different mindset that Magwitch possesses as he attempts to influence Pip’s life through his selflessness and desire to reward goodness despite his own palpable mistreatment at the hands of a corrupt legal system. Pip stealing ‘wittles’ for Magwitch in the opening chapter of the Great Expectations proves a stimulus for the subsequent theme of humility and generosity which in itself contracts with Pip’s own selfish development.
This is a point that Dickens exploits to highlight the cruelty of Havisham who seeks bitter revenge. An innocent boy, Pip, becomes blinded to those who are less fortunate thereby forgetting his own roots. Dickens is making clear that power – derived through the misuse of wealth and status is a corrupting force. Dickens’ voice, Pumblechook, observes ‘the stupendous power of money’, with the adjective ‘stupendous’ , used in its negative sense, accentuating how this is not the way in which high class society should be operating. Professor Higgins, too, uses his wealth to use Eliza as a social experiment rather than to genuinely be of benefit. Like Pip she is lifted out of her real life although for her, at least, there is a happy ending. Dickens uses language to great effect, leaving the audience in no doubt as to his conviction. Miss Havisham constantly manipulates Pip and Estella as when she tells Estella to ‘break his heart’. The use of the imperative ‘break’ shows Miss Havisham is impassioned, cold and cruel, effectively demanding she seeks vengeance on male society. Success will guarantee the destruction of the innocence of both Pip and Estella. Miss Havisham’s desire for vengeance due to her hatred of men can also be seen in her linguistic nature and self-description. ‘On this day of the year, long before you were born, this heap of decay’ – ‘was brought here. It and I have decayed together’.
The repetition of the noun ‘decay’ which is then transformed into the verb, ‘decayed’, shows Miss Havisham’s feelings after being jilted. Male Society has harshly influenced her life in such a way that she feels like death is the only part left. To emphasise this she says that they ‘have decayed together’. It is clear to see that she related herself to the ‘heap of decay’ to imply that she too is a of that nature. In stark contrast in one of his internalising monologues Pip states that ‘Ours was the marsh country’. The use of the possessive pronoun shows Pip is proud of where he comes from which contrasts his older self as he says, ‘I would feel more ashamed of home than ever, in my own ungracious breast’. It is clear to see Pip has realised he has been manipulated through the use of the word ‘ungracious’ which highlights how he is now acutely conscious of his failing.
The common hatred of men and constant desire for autonomy is explored also by Dickens in Sketches by Boz. In the sketch, Ladies’ Societies, a key quotation to support this hatred is, ‘the unthinking part of the parishioners laughed at all this, but the more reflective portion of the inhabitants abstained from expressing any opinion on the subject until that of the curate had been clearly ascertained.’ This is a clear example of the patriarchy ridiculing female society whenever they try to accomplish something themselves.Higgins attempts to corrupt Eliza’s innocence in a similar style to that of Miss Havisham. This is through his lack of care but desire for joy and self-satisfaction. Pickering says to Higgins at one of their first meetings with Eliza that ‘“she is no doubt as clean as she can afford to be; but compared to the ladies she is very dirty”’.
This emphasises the nature of high society as they are ridiculing her for what she can afford. His harsh and unloving attitude towards Eliza is clearly noticed when in dialogue with Pickering he states, ‘The girl doesn’t belong to anybody – is no use to anybody but me’. This caesura to break up the sentence results in Bernard Shaw clearly creating a foreboding atmosphere. Without the break or the second part of speech, ‘the girl doesn’t belong to anybody’, this would be an exciting phrase for Eliza to hear as it shows her being independent. This is hastily closed as an option by Higgins who decides to quickly say ‘is no use to anybody but me’. Not only do Miss Havisham and Higgins have the desire to manipulate due to enjoyment and hatred but they also believe there is only one route to happiness, hence their reasoning for being such demanding and authoritative figures.
This is to become either a Lady or a Gentleman. Higgins attempts to show care for Eliza through her dress however he does this rather lackluster and instead only supports his belief that you must be a Lady or Gentleman. Higgins says ‘This is my return for offering to take you out of the gutter and dress you beautifully and make a lady of you’, which is once again an example of male society ridiculing the lower class, especially female. This is contradicted by Dickens who often portrays his own feelings through characters as in Ladies’ Societies from Sketches by Boz he shows the denial of the power stricken patriarchy from the viewpoint of female society. The section supporting this is, ‘He never does anything to it with his own hands; but he takes great pride in it notwithstanding; and if you are desirous of paying your addresses to the youngest daughter, be sure to be in raptures with every flower and shrub it contains’.Comparisons can also be drawn between Pip and Eliza. Pip has more of a desire to become a gentleman throughout Great Expectations.
It is clear to see Pip’s childhood innocence as he has remained friends with Biddy throughout the novel. At one point Pip says to her ‘“Biddy”, “I want to be a gentleman”’. The demanding language used through the verb ‘want’ shows that Pip has become more of an authoritative figure showing how even when he is being innocent the success of Miss Havisham’s manipulation still shows through. On the other hand, Pygmalion Eliza realises her lack of importance as she becomes a social experiment for Higgins. Knowing that Higgins has no intentions of kindness she turns to Pickering at one point and says ‘he might want them for the next girl you pick up to experiment on’. Eliza begins by speaking directly to Pickering about Higgins but eventually directs her anger at them both. This could be a sign that Eliza is actually beginning to take control. This very much shows that the rich are often ignorant. Those who have been manipulated have had dominant figures attempt to corrupt their innocence. Estella, brought up by Miss Havisham, has been manipulated into not understanding love. An example of this is the way in which Estella treats Pip. In their first meeting, Estella turns to Miss Havisham when asked to play cards with Pip and says, ‘With this boy! Why, he is a common labouring-boy’. The use of exclamatio shows Estella is disgusted when faced with mingling with the lower class. Towards the end of the novel Estella says to Pip ‘I shall not be that. Come! Here is my hand. Do we part on this, you visionary boy – or man?’. There is a contrasting exclamatio which can be compared to when she says ‘With this boy!’.
The exclamatio used supports the idea of an offer of kindness which is very different to the earlier representation, disgust. It is clear to see that Estella has been manipulated into thinking that here language is acceptable due to her social status and position. Estella does however have a feeling of repent for her attitude and misdemeanor towards Pip as she states that, ‘I have not bestowed my tenderness anywhere. I have never had any such thing.’ Romantic vocabulary is shown through the noun ‘tenderness’ which is poetic and suggests there is a semantic field of love. This shows Estella having very little freedom throughout the majority of Great Expectations.
The poem London, from Songs of Experience, supports Estella having a lack of freedom. The poetic style of writing by Dickens in this passage closely relates to the rhythmic poetry of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. The line, ‘the mind forged manacles I hear’ can be very closely related to the predatory relationship between the controlling Miss Havisham and fragile Estella. In their relationship, Miss Havisham becomes the ‘manacles’ which are in turn forging the mind of Estella by restricting her from seeing the outside world.
An example of Estella having her feelings restricted by Miss Havisham comes when Miss Havisham says ‘Break their hearts!’ and ‘Love her, love her, love her’. The repetition of ‘love her’ emphasises how Miss Havisham is like a ‘manacle’ upon Estella as she is given no freedom of speech in this passage. Pip is also heavily impacted upon by Miss Havisham. When asked by Miss Havisham what he thinks of Estella, Pip compliments her on multiple characteristics but then says, ‘I think she is very insulting’. There is a lack of exclamatio as Pip whispers to Miss Havisham showing his care and kind-heartedness towards others. This contrasts with the attitude of Estella who purposefully ridicules him. Pip is introduced to this harsh treatment of Estella when he hears her say ‘Well! You can break his heart.’ Once again Miss Havisham uses the harshness of the word ‘break’ to further convey her selfish intentions.
This is the reason for Pip’s first taste of higher society being bitter and leaving him ashamed rather than angry which would be justifiable. This shows how Miss Havisham has manipulated Estella into being harsh to men whereas Pip has been brought up by a ‘mild, good-natured, sweet-tempered, easy-going, foolish, dear fellow’. His change of attitude is forced upon him by Miss Havisham and only becomes apparent as he begins to treat Joe differently. He begins to possess the characteristics of a very snobby, wealthy, elitist. Dennis Butts argues that Dickensian society would suggest that you ‘work within society as decently as possible’. Pip states that communicating with Joe would now be seen as ‘conspiracy with convicts’ which is hypocritical as Pip stole ‘wittles’ from Joe at the very beginning of the novel. Miss Havisham has clearly manipulated him into believing that the lower classes are of less worth than the upper. Higgins shares similarities with the idea of being ‘mind-forged manacles’. Therefore him and Miss Havisham become extremely related. A ‘phonograph’ and ‘laryngoscope’ are the ways in which Higgins exploits the innocent. Higgins’ manipulative ways are seen through the way in which his actions have impacted the life of Eliza. Higgins states that ‘We can throw her back in the gutter’, which is a clear representation of his feelings for those less fortunate than himself.
The use of the word ‘gutter’ suggests that Higgins believes that Eliza does not even have a home but instead simply lives in a small, wet, cramped area. A similarity in connotations with the Chimney Sweeper in Songs of Innocence is the description of the child. The derogatory language, ‘little black thing in the snow’ , matches that of the way in which Higgins treats Eliza. Both of these characters are outcasts from society living in squalor. It is clear to see that Eliza had very little desire in becoming a lady however Higgins’ manipulative ways got the better of her as she eventually decided that she wanted ‘to talk like a lady’.
This only came into her mind when Higgins pretended to care for her in a compassionate way rather than objectifying her. This was an incorrect assumption as Higgins believed that she was ‘incapable of understanding anything’.The manipulatory predators prey on the innocent due to their selfish and apparent kind-hearted actions. Miss Havisham is able to manipulate Pip and Estella through money. Her desire to manipulate comes from her own amusement and passionate vengeance on male society. Miss Havisham’s passionate hatred of men is supported by a passage in sketches by Boz which focuses on the mockery of women from the possessive male society. The crucial sentence in this passage being, ‘The unthinking part of the parishioners laughed at all this’. This is important as it places emphasis on women having a valid reason to disobey and fight against male society. London from Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience contains the line, ‘and blights with plagues the marriage-hearse’ which also emphasises Miss Havisham’s hatred of men. Miss Havisham was left at the altar and this is one of the many reasons her loathing of men has become so strong. The juxtaposition of ‘marriage’ and ‘hearse’ is Blake suggesting life is only necessary so that death can be fulfilled.
This is a very similar to the attitude of life that Dickens has given to Miss Havisham. Miss Havisham never removed her wedding dress and this resulted in her decease still being related to her wedding day. This leaves Miss Havisham with a desire to take revenge and hence her reasoning for manipulating Pip and Estella in such cruel ways. Miss Havisham and Magwitch can also be compared through the different attitudes they have. They have received very different criticisms one of which comes from Dorothy Van Ghent who describes Miss Havisham as a ‘fungus’, suggesting that she grows and lives in unwanted places. In the Providential Aesthetic in Victorian Fiction, Thomas Vargish describes Miss Havisham as being ‘the most clearly culpable’ and also with relevance and comparison to Magwitch he claims that ‘her twisting nature seems more consciously malevolent than his plan for Pip’. Magwitch is not generally seen as a manipulator however in some sense he does manipulate Pip through the kindness of his heart.
Magwitch proves his kind-heartedness when he first informs Pip that he is his benefactor. Pip reacts harshly and disrespectfully to this informative news but is calmed by Magwitch exclaiming, ‘You acted noble, my boy’, ‘Noble, Pip! And I have never forgot it!’. Magwitch refers to Pip as his own child which highlights and portrays how he sees Pip as one of his immediate family members. John O. Jordan suggests that Magwitch is ‘Cain or the wandering Jew’ which portrays him not as an outcast but a legendary figure destined to wander the Earth. Dickens describes Magwitch as a saintly figure at his court case proving John. O. Jordan to be correct with his assumption that he is destined for greatness. This shows Magwitch being an altruistic character as although he may seem to manipulate Piphe does this out of the kindness of his heart. He wants to give someone the life he never had. However Magwitch has managed to turn his life into wealth by exploiting crime. Therefore this results in a corruption of Pip’s innocence as he has been supplied and provided for by a criminal.Higgins on the other hands has the desire to manipulate Eliza Doolittle’s innocence due to his callous nature needing to be supplied by fun and a sense of pride. He manages to achieve this sense of pride through the suffering and ridicule of others less fortunate than himself. Higgins has lots of money. It must be noted, also, that the majority of his money came through a hefty inheritance after his parents passed away. Higgins is dissimilar to Miss Havisham as his intentions are not malicious but more misguided.His actions are not out of compassion but through the desire for his work to prosper. In Act II of Pygmalion Higgins says ‘It’s almost irresistible. She’s so deliciously low—so horribly dirty’. By using the adjective ‘deliciously’, Shaw is attempting to place humour into the mind of not only Higgins but also the audience.
Dickens and Shaw both show signs that when the upper class acted how they should then happiness would prevail. Pip and Estella in Dickens’ more conventional ending will marry, however a close friend of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, suggested that he should use another ending in which Estella remarries, and Pip is left single.
This ending would prove the corruption of innocence of both characters as it proves Miss Havisham to be successful. Estella has not married the one who loves her and Pip has had his heart broken just like Miss Havisham. The resolutions of Miss Havisham and Magwitch are interesting. Magwitch is given the chance to explain a lot to Pip before his death and becomes a manipulator who has been given the chance to speak. Pip clearly wants repentance given to Magwitch as he says ‘“O Lord, be merciful to him a sinner’” as he is lying on his deathbed. Pip does also seem to forgive Miss Havisham who is given a much harsher end in chapter 49 as she is killed in a fire in her own home. This shows how the selfless acts of Abel Magwitch have clearly been recognised by the author and although he is a criminal he is given pity.
Miss Havisham on the other hand is corrupted by her own wealth and suffers a horrible fate. Pip, although originally corrupted by Miss Havisham, realises that being a gentleman is not about being pompous and inconsiderate but being caring and generous to those of a lesser status than yourself. Eliza, too, is not corrupted as she says to Higgins ‘what I did was not for the dresses and the taxis: I did it because we were pleasant together and I come-came-to care for you;’. Estella’s innocence on the other hand, has been manipulated by Miss Havisham as she has no love for Pip.In conclusion the corruption of innocence is portrayed by Dickens, Shaw and Blake in many different ways. The language of Miss Havisham and Higgins shows their manipulative mindsets and attempts to corrupt those less fortunate than themselves. Estella, Eliza and Pip are persuaded into taking a route suitable for the predators, in other words the manipulatory characters. This results in ingratitude towards those who care which is proven in the relationship between Pip and Joe Gargery. Higgins shows clear signs of remorse towards the end of the play.
The resolution of his character shows that he has adopted strong emotional connections to Eliza and wishes to fulfill her desire. This however cannot result in the dismissal of his poor and harsh attitude towards her throughout the majority of the play. When examining the time period of these three authors it is clear to see the social gap narrowing as time goes on, however the innocent children who are exploited throughout does not change. This shows how even with a reduction in social division the corruption of innocence will still be present due to the upper class elitists who find joy, excitement and self-satisfaction in mistreating and manipulating the young and feeble.
The Portrayal of Victorian Society and Its Values
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.