G. B. Shaw's "Pygmalion"

”George Bernard Shaw was an Irish comic dramatist, literary critic, and socialist propagandist, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.” Pygmalion is a play by George Bernard Shaw, named after a Greek mythological figure. It was first presented on stage to the public in 1913. The play is considered to be one of the literary pieces of the twentieth century displaying the social condition of British society. It includes a flower girl Eliza and a Phonologist Henry Higgins. Eliza’s bad language and accent gets Higgins’ attention to take some notes and this is the beginning of their acquaintance when she decides to change her language to find a job in a flower shop and become a lady.

Higgins bet on her to win over the Colonel and make a duchess out of her then the journey starts. At the end of the play Eliza leaves him both are sad and wounded, one can claim that she wanted more attention and respect while the other can claim that has treated perfectly and as he has used to be.

Eliza tells that she wants to marry the absent minded youth, Freddy to find love and respect and that drives Higgins mad and sad at the end. At first let’s have a look over the myth behind the play. In 10 AD the Roman poet Ovid wrote a long narrative poem of fifteen books, called Metamorphoses. The Greek story of a sculptor named Pygmalion is in one of those books. Pygmalion lived on the island of Cyprus and he detested women.

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Instead of spending time on the opposite sex he dedicated himself to his art. “In the course of time he successfully carved an amazingly skilful statue in ivory, white as snow, an image of perfect feminine beauty” (Ovid 394). Pygmalion cannot help but to fall in love with his statue and treats it as it were human, clothing her, bringing her gifts and embracing her at night – wishing she would be real. Venus heard his prays and made her come alive. The perfectly carved statue, later named Galatea, transforms into a living human being under the hands of her sculptor.

The phonetician professor Henry Higgins makes a bet with his friend colonel Pickering, to transform the Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a duchess in just a few months. He teaches her to speak and act like a lady, and in six months time Eliza is taken for a princess at an embassy ball. Shaw made his Galatea a modern working-class girl who talks back at her creator, and his Pygmalion is a snob who refuses to fall in love with the woman he claims to have created. Pickering and Henry Higgins have no idea about the situation they are putting Eliza or themselves into.

The first act introduces many characters that represent various social-class positions of the British society. For example, Higgins, Pickering, Mrs. Higgins and Freddy can be categorized as high class characters in the play. Mrs. Pierce is a housekeeper and she belongs to upper middle class. Finally, Eliza and her father Alfred Dolittle represent low middle class. When we observe utterances of the flower girl, the first few reflect numerous features of Cockney English to depict her social standing. The different behaviors of the first and class group are noticeable. Pickering as a gentleman is too friendly and gentle and has no pain, just like Higgins, though, he is much freer in speech and action. The character of Higgins, it can be said, fits the stereotype of the greedy, manipulative bourgeois who exploits the working class in order to fulfill his own ends. He does not care about other feelings or thoughts which is one of the most obvious behaviors of the high class. “HIGGINS. Well, when I’ve done with her, we can throw her back into the gutter; and then it will be her own business again; so that’s all right..” (Act II) Henry Higgins’ reckless attitude regarding Eliza’s future is similar to how a bourgeois is interested in a worker only to the extent that he can use the worker for his ends; what happens to the worker at the end of the work day is of no concern to him. For Higgins, what happens to Eliza after Higgins has won his bet is of no concern to him. Thus because he regards Eliza only as either a commodity or a worker only to be used to fulfill his designs, Higgins is a classic example of ruthless bourgeois.

Though he is not that much ruthless as he shall be.

“HIGGINS. About you, not about me. If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I can’t change my nature; and I don’t intend to change my manners. My manners are exactly the same as Colonel Pickering’s.” (Act V)

When Eliza objects to he just simply says:

“LIZA. That’s not true. He treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess.

HIGGINS. And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl.” (Act V)

Even at the beginning of the play Mrs. Pierce refers to his rude nature, the curses he uses all the time, the mess he makes and leaves everywhere and he never shows any emotion to what others may think of him. On the other hand, Eliza is always trying to be a good girl that is the most general thought among the middle class and she repeats it all through the play: “LIZA. You’re no gentleman, you’re not, to talk of such things. I’m a good girl, I am; and I know what the like of you are, I do.” (Act II) Even at the end of the play she again refers to herself that she was a good girl and now after this change she is no good anymore. She begs for mercy and kindness which Higgins calls it “Puppy- Trick” and hates it the most. He asks her to have self respect and do not seek it in the others behaviors. He appreciates when Eliza throws the slipper at his face instead of acting like a dog.

“You were a fool: I think a woman fetching a man’s slippers is a disgusting sight: did I ever fetch your slippers? I think a good deal more of you for throwing them in my face. No use slaving for me and then saying you want to be cared for: Who cares for a slave? … [I]f you dare to set up your little dog’s tricks of fetching and carrying slippers against my creation of Duchess Eliza, I’ll slam the door in your silly face.” (Act V)

The play is about a situation in society where everything is constructed and understood in class dimension: physical appearance (such as personal appearance and clothes, homes), the names of the characters, and the way of speaking and behaving. The appearance in the play is a big deal. The way Eliza is dressed up shows her class not the way she talks. For example, in the race horse scene she is not talking in a good way but nobody thinks she is from the low class part of society as she is dressed up well. Even in the last party, we do not see her talking, even when the Hungarian expert talks to her in Hungarian she says that she can’t speak French. She has no idea about the difference of other languages which an upper class person usually knows French at least. Every body is impressed by her beauty, the way she dresses, the way she walks, the way she dances. But when we turn our attention to the flower girl Eliza , we find other kinds of clothes. Instead of wearing a luxurious evening dress, the flower girl just wears a little sailor hat of black straw that has long been exposed to the dust and soot of London, a shoddy black coat, a brown skirt with a coarse apron, and old boots which are much the worse for wear. Perhaps she has only two or three pairs of dresses which make her having no choice to change clothes everyday so that the clothes “have seldom if ever been brushed.” Her limited income of selling flowers is not enough to buy new clothes to make her appearance more interesting as to add and polish her natural beauty.

Moreoever, it is because of the matter of clothes that she experiences a bad treatment from Henry who exceedingly dislikes seeing the clothes she is wearing when she comes to his house at the first time. She is very surprised when he orders his housekeeper to put all her clothes off and throw them away into the dustbin. While waiting for the arrival of the new clothes, She is wrapped in brown paper just like an object. It is to say that our phonetician professor cannot bear to see her ‘ugly’ clothes and gives priority to witness her wrapped in paper. How disgusted are the clothes that he treats them like garbage as he asks his housekeeper to throw the clothes away into the dustbin. How low the social status of a flower girl is that her clothes must be stripped down and replaced by a brown paper. Of course, clothes are more precious and decent to wear by civilized human beings than a piece of paper, but the point is the fact that the upper class people have no respect at all to the lower class. They tend to force the lower class to wear particular kind of clothes they wish, including the imposition of the uniform policy in industrial environment to distinguish the common workers with the higher officers and the owner of the factory as well. This aspect is so clear to portray class distinction since personal appearance and clothes, furniture and place of living owned by the characters are closely related to the social status. George Bernard develops this aspect in a good way by providing details. Clothes have become one of the most important parts of a person’s social class in a society. George Bernard knows about this fact, and therefore he catches the phenomenon, composes it in his literary work, and uses it to explain the social distinction that takes place in British society by using the issue of different clothes worn by the characters.

Moreover, language is used as a device to separate the classes. George Bernard indicates how language brings separations in society based on the fact that the way ones speak a language defines their social class. Flower girl has a cockney accent and belongs to the lower class and Pickering and Higgins by using it carefully and in Higgins’s case more freely depict the high class. He even complains about how the middle class neglects in teaching language to their children which is exactly what Shaw believes: “The English have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it. They spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like…” As it was said before, Eliza in the ball does not talk and is in disguise as the language is one of the main factors through which can the social classes be recognized. Every body sees her beauty and enjoys while she is just like a statue with no words.

As a result, all the devices like clothes, the way of talking, the behaviors and thoughts perfectly show the differences of these classes and the narrator perfectly mocks it by name it a “love story in five act” which is a love story but with no happy ending. The characters like Higgins’ housekeeper and Eliza’s father are swaying between these classes distinctions. The phonetician Henry as a bourgeois stands for this group and shows how snub, heartless, fearless and indifferent can be. On the other hand, Eliza is a perfect Middle class who always want to be good, not even better. A young lady who begs for respect and love and shows no dignity; however, in the very last act she shows the opposite side of coin. She acts like a high class, even when Higgins criticizes her she does not care anymore, she shows how brutal she can be and logical and that sweeps Higgins off.

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G. B. Shaw's "Pygmalion". (2019, Dec 18). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/dd-358-best-essay/

G. B. Shaw's "Pygmalion"
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