The Classical Myth Of The Pygmalion
In 1916, Pygmalion, was published in New York and was written by George Bernard Shaw, which was based on a classical myth. In 1856, Shaw was born to the parents Lucinda and George Shaw in Dublin, Ireland. Over the years, Shaw established into a highly prolific playwright, novelist, and lecturer. Also, he was an effective Fabian socialist and a supporter of feminists and homosexuals. In Pygmalion, Shaw uses humor and lively characterization to explore how language, class structure, education and gender influence how people are seen by society.
In this play, Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins are the two main characters. Higgins is the lead character of the play because of his treatment to Eliza, his experiences during the experiment, and his strong personality.To begin, Henry Higgins, a skillful of phonetics, decides to take on the challenge of teaching Eliza to speak English properly. He boasts to Colonel Pickering, his professional colleague, that he could transform Eliza, an indigent Cockney flower girl, into a beautiful woman capable of posing as a duchess.
However, throughout this experiment, Higgins puts Eliza through brutal vocal and cultural training to reach his goal. He shows her no compassion and did not care about her feelings or her personal needs. Higgins was consistently rude to Eliza. For example, during one of their meetings at his mother's house, Eliza attempts to fascinate him but Higgins scolds her by saying, "Don't you dare try this game on me. I taught it to you; and it doesn't take me in" (Reynolds1).
Higgins gives everyone else attention except for Eliza. He says she has a horrible personality and she has bad language.Higgins is not a gentleman. During a lesson he has Eliza to recite the alphabet. However, Eliza had problems saying the alphabets.
When she says the first few letters wrong, Higgins yell at her. On the other hand, Colonel Pickering supports Eliza by encouraging until she was finally able to pronounce the letter ''c'' correctly. Eliza didn't get much attention from Higgins.
Higgins ignores Eliza questions about the notes he takes during their sessions. He ignores her in the presence of Pickering. At times, he tells her to shut up and stop butchering the English language. Eliza wants to be treated with respect, in other words as a person. Higgins, however, persists in treating her as a project and an object.
Higgins accuses Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle, of extortion and blackmail when arrives at his home to give the belongings to his daughter that she requested. Higgins tells Doolittle to take his daughter home but changed his mind when offered an arrangement that included money in exchange for keeping Eliza. Moreover, when Eliza enters the room Higgins threatens her that her father will take her away.Eliza quickly contradicts Higgins by acknowledging that's not her father's character. Higgins's actions clearly show he is not a true gentleman.Higgins experiment is very intense. He has to complete his goal using his skills by teaching Eliza the English language and manners in six months.
Therefore Higgins moves Eliza into his home. With the help of Pickering and the housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, he begins to teach Eliza the proper speech and manners of the upper class. Although Eliza wants to learn, there is tension between her and Higgins. Eliza is concerned about the abuse she was getting from Higgins.
Quickly he tries to control her by commanding what she can do, trying to influence her with promises and chocolate candy. For instance, Higgins shows up to his mother's tea party with Eliza uninvited. His mother asked him to leave but Higgins ignored her. The purpose of his visit was putting Eliza to a test.
His mother allowed them to stay and Eliza was able to socialize with Mrs. Higgins' guests. Eliza evaluated her own achievements and express to Henry: "You can't take away the knowledge you gave me. You said I had a finer ear than you. And I can be civil and to kind people, which is more than you can" (Reynolds1).Higgins is an arrogant, self-centered, and insensitive man.
Higgins is what you might call a bundle of contradictions. Higgins is rude to Eliza. He continuously picks at the way she speaks. At various periods throughout the play, Higgins equates women to wood, refers to Eliza as trash, and request that she be wrapped up in brown paper as if she was some sort of package. He calls her "his work of art".
Additionally, Higgins's behavior comes from his hate towards young women that's unexplainable. He express to his mother that women are all stupid. Higgins has a strange feeling towards young women who remind him of his room. Although Higgins is a smart man, he can be a stubborn fool.
He is aware that he's a fool and at times he find ways to justify his behavior. In spite of Higgins insensitive attitude, he is a helpful person. He was able to help Eliza learn to speak the proper English language so that she could work as a lady in a flower shop instead of a flower girl on the streets. Eliza was transformed into a Gentle Lady, educated and refined.
For the first six months, Eliza does things that would affiliate her with the upper-class. She attends concerts and given instructions on how to play the piano as she accepts and blends into this class of society. Although her education was solely intended for Higgins experiment, the experience will remain forever with her.This play by George Bernard Shaw is great for many reasons.
It is a social critique that explores the issues of class and love amidst a backdrop of early 20th century England. Shaw's brilliant, characterization, of the arrogant and rude, but highly intelligent Higgins, and the straight-forward, strong and intelligent Eliza lead the audience to love the characters and be absorbed by the story. Higgins' many insults "guttersnipe"(Bloom 1), "slut", "idiot" to Eliza are cruel, but the audience should not overlook his better points, such as his goal of creating a better society through knowledge and elimination of class and all the unfairness associated with the latter. Higgins believes that, by using phonetics, accents could be eliminated and therefore, with everyone speaking the same, society would become classless.
Note this quote "The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human beings in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another." Higgins is sexist, because he lives for his subject, and cannot imagine putting anyone or anything second to his passion. He values companionship, and independence. Eliza, though, wants love, someone who cares for her and respects her. She finds this in Freddy - who accepts her for who she is and she accepts him for who he is.
Eliza has shown that education and money can elevate one to another class, but is this a complete transformation? It can be seen that she does not truly belong to either class. She cannot go back to being a flower girl; however she does not feel completely comfortable in the middle-class, either.Alfred Doolittle is a good example of the new middle class, where criterion of gentility was changing from family and background to money.
Doolittle provides much comic relief throughout the play. On the other hand, Pickering is a good foil to Higgins, as a caring and smart man who treats Eliza well. The ending of this play is brilliant. It does not end with the usual romantic ending, where the reader would expect Eliza and Higgins to have a romantic relationship. The fact is, Higgins was Eliza's teacher and that, as he says himself at the beginning, is a sacred relationship.
In addition, Higgins' passion would always be phonetics, and learning all other people and things are second and this is something that is converse to Eliza's values. Though they become friends, who argue constantly, deep down they respect each other. Eliza is very honest and straightforward about her feelings. She is hurt that Higgins would not accept her for who she is.
Her sole request was for him to pay attention to her. It is only after the party at Mrs. Higgins' Eliza shows how tortured she is and the pain she actually feels. A sense of neglect from the only two friends she has. She feels nothing more than an experiment.
Eliza says, "The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated" (Galen's & Lynn).Work CitedBloom, Harold. Pygmalion. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1999.Galen's, David M. Pygmalion. Detroit: Drama for Students, 1998.Reynolds, Jean. Pygmalion.
Ed. George B. Shaw. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishing, 1994.Shaw, George B. Pygmalion. New York: Penguin Books, 2000.
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