A Man’s Sworn Love For Women: Pygmalion By George Bernard Shaw
Traditionally, Cinderella’s story is the tale of a young girl who is mistreated by her stepmother and eventually makes her way into a royal family. In a unique twist on the classic fairytale, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw is about more than transforming a flower girl into a duchess. It is more focused on turning an average human being into a young woman. Pygmalion is a play telling the story of a young flower girl named Eliza Doolittle who does not speak properly and is not respected because of her social class. However, she has a desire to improve herself and her life with the help of Henry Higgins who is supposed to make her a duchess. Social class is very important to Higgins because he has status and money. Unfortunately, he is very impolite and his actions are excused because he is wealthy and popular. The themes Shaw develops through the suspenseful plot and characterization of Eliza throughout Pygmalion are the status of a human being according to their education, wealth, and social status.
The social status of a human being is based partly on education, especially for women. One of the major influences George Bernard Shaw had for the book Pygmalion was his hatred of people butchering the English language as Eliza Doolittle demonstrates throughout the novel. He was a phonetics teacher therefore, education was of high importance to him. Intellect and knowledge play a significant role in who a person will become later in life. Shaw took education very seriously, but he placed a significant emphasis on using the English language properly. Shaw suggests his frustrations in the preface of the novel when he says that the English have no respect for their language which means they will not teach their children to speak it (Shaw 1). This demonstrates not that the children will be completely incapable of speaking Enligh, but rather that they will be taught incorrectly.
Shaw uses Doolittle to show how he wants to correct society’s improper use of the English language. For example, after much help from Higgins, Eliza says she does not believe she will ever again utter any of her old speech (Shaw 81). She has learned her lesson. Shaw is trying to prove that increasing a person’s ability to speak properly makes them appear more educated. Therefore, Shaw wanted it to stand out that Eliza’s pronunciation was intermediate. It says “Higgins himself observes that pronunciation is the deepest gulf that separates class from class and soul from the soul” (Busiel 2). This is indicating the difference between all social classes and the natural speaking skills of a human being. They portray using the English language by using Eliza as an advocate to expand her speaking. She was at first low-class and the advancement of her speaking transformed her into a middle-class young lady.
Another characteristic that influenced Shaw’s writing is how Shaw was serious about wanting to expose people and professors for poor judgment. Even though it is not the best thing to do, his reasoning was liable because he was so extreme on the future of phonetics. Shaw thought the professors did not teach well simply because they did not teach with original content or unique tactics. The professors taught just like everyone else. Shaw stated that he knows how hard it is for a man of genuine thoughts to maintain sincere and kindly relations to men who do not appreciate it and to those who do not profess without originality (Shaw 13). Shaw’s argument is a personal opinion and is heart-felt because those are his feelings towards men professors. Shaw is attempting to expose the professors on his behalf about how they teach and how the students will mound upon the professors because it is either boring or they are teaching with rage and hate. Shaw related this play to his personal life because of neglect from his father, but he met a journalist during his journey and he convinced him to write plays. Although he was very knowledgeable about politics and economics, he was more successful in dramatic playwriting.
A strong theme that commonly appears in the exposition of the novel is Shaws’ commonly known wealth. Author and analyst, Christopher Busiel states that Eliza does not have any inherent worth, meanwhile, Higgins assumes only he can build her worth by helping her pass as a lady (Busiel 3). Shaw characterizes Higgins as a stubborn and rich man. He does this in order to make it seem like Higgins is the one in control over Eliza Doolittle. He is exerting his higher social status over her, further relating the idea of wealth at the beginning of the novel. Social status also has a relationship to wealth. Another author, Laurie Harris, suggests Shaw has a fixation with wealth and social status. She alludes to the fact that money makes him happy and that he finds satisfaction in behaving like someone from the upper class (Harris 18). Shaw repetitively shows the significance of money and how it correlates to what people think about a person.
To emphasize more on wealth, Shaw uses Eliza Doolittle’s unexpected upcoming into a middle-class to ponder wealth and destitution. Charles Berst suggests that Liza lacks the means to maintain the standard of living because of economic issues (Berst 246 ). Unfortunately, Higgins and Pickering are aware that Eliza does not have any money to make it on her own in the world. They are aware of this due to her attempt to sell flowers as well as her general demeanor. She does not fit in with the aristocracy. Higgins however, does. Emil Roy, drama critic says that Higgins studies over others because he has power and influence but not the actual right (Roy 1). This demonstrates that people who have more wealth automatically think they have power over anyone which is not necessarily true.
Another consistent factor throughout the plot is the importance of social status as a whole and how it corrupts people. Social status can help a person be successful in life but not define them. Eliza lacks this for the previously mentioned reasons of wealth and education. It impacts her as a whole and does not corrupt her as much as expected. She strives to change herself. This is Shaw stating he believes people have to improve to elevate their social status. According to Busiel, Shaw trusted that human advancement and evolution were globally the key to social adjustment (Busiel 2). He is emphasizing that a person can do right on their own without depending on anyone. In the novel, Busiel also indicates that Shaw lets Eliza do what she wants because she has an uncertain future and he wants her in one in which she will work, struggle, and prosper as an independent woman (Busiel 2). Eliza does not fit in and she notices how people treat her because of her appearance. Shaw’s proposal was to have Eliza speak a middle-class accent and act the part of being a princess. This determines that if your appearance is the same as how you act then people will treat you with more respect.
Furthermore, it was always about influencing and trying to change others with Shaw.
Most importantly, after a while, Higgins started to feel guilty for the way he treated her and had a slight bit of sympathy. “… You’re crying and looking as ugly as the very devil; but when you’re all right and quite yourself, you’re what I should call attractive” (Shaw 68). He is trying to build Eliza up and give her some confidence, but when he says that, it threw her completely off because she may have taken it the wrong way. All of a sudden he says he just wants her to be comfortable.
The main focus is the irony throughout the plot. A man is disgusted with women who do not have sex and how he pursues something that is not real but focuses on making it real (Berst 1). He would make a sacrifice to try to make his imagination become real. Eliza’s transformation is relevant to the plot and that is why Shaw stays strongly focused on it (Farewell 3).
Shaw creates Eliza Doolittle to exemplify the development of a desperate young flower girl transforming into a middle-class duchess. This transformation Shaw shows his leaders do not seem to always be best.
Shaw develops Eliza’s character when he introduces her, in order to develop the theme of social class. He made it obvious that she did not speak the English language well. In the novel, she exclaimed nah then Freddy look why’ Gowin death but she did not pronounce things how the upper echelons did (Shaw 16). He states that to make sure the readers understand. She was the only one in the town who spoke that way, so during her flower selling job, she is supposed to run into a man of phonetics who happens to be Henry Higgins. He is going to teach her how to speak properly once she pays him what is due. Even though Eliza is gullible and outspoken it will not go right in the end because Higgins is impolite but can be charming.
The character of Eliza is portrayed as a rock that transforms into something fancy which will relate to her because she became self-obsessed and did not care what Higgins had to say even though he embodied her. In the beginning act, the readers do not know that beneath the gutter and behind Eliza’s slurred speech is the potential of a wonderful work of art. This relates to the theme of Pygmalion Galatea because a small marble is turned into an attractive statue of a beautiful woman. She will then make an appearance during the third act and it is taking place at Henry’s mother’s house. Eliza really has a desire to improve herself. She states in the story that “Now you’ve made a lady of me, I’m not fit to sell anything else” (Shaw 68). This is her saying that she is right where she wants herself to be but she is not doing what she wants to do. The plan was to get lessons from Higgins and then hopefully gain enough knowledge to have her own flower shop but she does not seem to be finished working up to it.
Also in the first act, Shaw goes through great measures to hide the basic qualities of Eliza. He shows the worst parts of her such as her being vulgar and low. Most importantly, he shows how badly she is fumbling over the English language. She already felt irregular because of how different she was from everyone and it was no better once she learned who Higgins really was. She thinks she is about to be accused of prostitution so she gets obnoxious. Shaw’s point of that is to see the change in her pronunciation after Higgins finished teaching her, but the most drastic change is Eliza’s change of manners which she either taught herself or learned from others because Higgins had no manners so he could not teach her.
Eliza wants to have middle-class manners. She also wants to be respected and treated like a middle-class. But first, she has to learn manners and pronunciation before all that can take place. She got so used to being treated wildly that she started acting like a pet to Higgins and a man named Pickering as if she was extremely devoted. She wanted to be independent and on her own, once she knew everything that she needed to know which comes about in the next part of her journey.
Under the teachings of Pickering and Higgins Eliza quickly understands how to act like a lady of the upper class. She has learned how to play a role and she plays it well. She stated in act 5 that she changed her behavior and speaking. She refuses to go back to her old ways. Eliza is a free-spirited woman who can be independent but she finds herself under the control of men. She cuts her scared girl from herself and stands up to Higgins and Pickering. It started with her father and ended with them. She is now in full control of herself and her actions. Henry wants Eliza to be outspoken and unafraid. That is because he is very independent himself and likes to take his own route. Eliza is the lady he wants. She is no longer considered an experiment to him or herself. She is on her own and getting treated with the respect she deserves from all she has been put through. Eliza only wants to change herself now and be a better, successful woman.
To conclude the story, Eliza became successful and very happy. She is in love, but not with Higgins. She marries Freddy even though she knows he has nothing. This shows that a man can have all the money in the world and he still would not mean a thing to a broken woman whose unknown intelligence was taken for granted. It focuses on how people interact with others because of their appearance. It also shows how one can have a change of heart towards another person. Finally, it emphasizes how the conflict in society examines how someone is treated.
- Busiel, Christopher. ‘An overview of Pygmalion.’ Drama for Students, Gale. Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1420006639/LitRC?u=lap08alhs&sid=LitRC&xid=b231c2f9. Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
- Farwell, Harold. ‘Pygmalion: Overview.’ Reference Guide to English Literature, edited by D. L. Kirkpatrick, 2nd ed., St. James Press, 1991. Literature
- Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1420007310/LitRC?u=lap08alhs&sid=LitRC&xid=165be17f. Accessed 9 Sept. 2019.
- Harris, Laurie Lanzen. ‘Overview: Pygmalion.’ Characters in 20th-Century Literature, Gale, 1990. Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1430001610/LitRC?u=lap08alhs&sid=LitRC&xid=af4fb740. Accessed 22 Oct. 2019.
- ‘Overview: Pygmalion.’ Drama for Students, edited by David M. Galens and Lynn M. Spampinato, vol. 1, Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1430001611/LitRC?u=lap08alhs&sid=LitRC&xid=b54d07f7. Accessed 22 Oct. 2019.
- Shaw, B. George. Pygmalion. 1916. Prestwick House, 2005.