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Changes in Eliza in Pygmalion

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Changes in Eliza in Pygmalion

 

 

Before Eliza first encountered Mr. Higgins, she was simply a dirty, yet caring girl in the gutter of London. During her time with both Mr. Higgins and Colonel Pickering, Eliza did change, for the fist few weeks of her stay in Wimpole Street, she questioned everything that Higgins asked her to do, and generally couldn't see how they would help her. Later, Eliza begins to understand that Higgins, as harsh as he is, is trying to do his best to teach her, and therefore should be respected. After the ambassador's ball, we see more of the old Eliza resurfacing. She starts to worry again, and since she has grown attached to Higgins and Pickering, is devastated to see their finding her so trivial. Eliza's basic character remains relatively unchanged. We can still observe the old Eliza, under the upper-class persona. The play, "Pygmalion" brings out the message that looks can be extremely deceiving, while touching on the issue that self presentation really does change the way people look at you.

 

Act I of the play first introduces the reader to the rich of London. The author, Bernard Shaw, uses these well moneyed citizens to display the contrast between them and Eliza. In this act, Eliza has yet to be introduced to the world of the rich, and is portrayed by Shaw as in innocent dreamer. Eliza is concerned for her own safety, in making sure that it was know that she only wanted to sell a flower to the gentleman. She is persistent in a kind way; the reader sees this when she tries eagerly to sell to the gentleman without change. It becomes apparent that she is very poor, and needs success from her flower selling to live a life at all. Eliza shows great pride in her line of work, and that she stays above the law, not resorting to illegal prostitution or stealing. The introduction of Higgins taking down Eliza's speech gives the author a further chance to display Eliza's will to stay innocent and good. Another way that Shaw shows us the real Eliza is in the way that she starts crawling over the dirty ground to locate the money thrown down at her by Higgins.

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The way that Eliza is so very grateful indicates her real kindness and simple mission to live any sort of life. She now realizes that she can ask Mr. Higgins to help her fulfill her dream and become a lady in a flower shop: an occupation for which she is not visually or phonetically suited.

 

In Higgins's study at the start of act II, Eliza feels that she has to impress Higgins by making sure he knows that she arrived in a taxi. Eliza doesn't understand the way that Mr. Higgins treats people, she thinks, as would any normal person, that he is being particularly mean to her specifically. She quite rightly gets very upset when Henry Higgins rambles on about her money, and wanting to throw the "baggage" out of the window. Eliza shows little emotion towards the wager set by Pickering; she merely thanks him for offering to pay for the lessons. During her lessons, Eliza is worked to such an extent that she comes to resent Higgins more than a student should a teacher. Her hatred towards the man soon lightens as she realizes that she can only accomplish her dream of working as a lady in a flower shop Higgins can shape her into a lady. Higgins made Eliza more aggressive in the way that he treated her. She was very good at bottling up her anger towards him, she tried to put it away and saw Higgins as a good friend. She didn't realize that Higgins took pride in his challenge, not in his student. Or that Higgins saw her only as a student, nothing more. Pickering, on the other hand, does show respect to Eliza, as he would anyone. Eliza says later that it was Pickering that allowed her to be a lady, teaching her through example how to be well mannered.

 

For Higgins and Pickering the ambassador's ball was a great success. Eliza, on the other hand, had fulfilled her purpose as far a Higgins was concerned. She was merely a tool used to enhance Higgins reputation in society. Having shown absolutely no appreciation towards Eliza, Higgins kept boasting about his success, and failed to acknowledge Eliza, besides the one time he did, which was simply to make clear that it was not Eliza the won his bet, but it was himself. Eliza is shattered upon hearing this. Higgins had drilled into Eliza that she was a lady, she would speak like a lady and also that she would act like a lady. What he had not realized, because he shows the same level of selfishness to everyone, was that he had slowly been making Eliza a stronger person, as illustrated by Shaw in Eliza's throwing the slippers at Higgins. Eliza finally stands up to Higgins and uses his own tactics against him.

 

Higgins did change Eliza. Originally she was a kind innocent girl trying to stay alive in the gutter of London. Higgins through the introduction to high-society had altered Eliza's way of thinking. It was good for Eliza to become stronger as she did. It was good that Mr. Higgins finally had something go wrong for him. Eliza was changed by her interactions with Higgins. Now at the end of the play, she becomes overpowering to Higgins, her beauty becomes murderous as Higgins realizes that she is leaving. It took the threat of Eliza leaving for him to see his true feelings towards her. He is portrayed to the end as an ignorant fool, when even after all is said and done; he still hides his feelings mocking Eliza for wanting Freddie.

 



Throughout his career, George Bernard Shaw agitated for the reform of the vagaries of English spelling and pronunciation, but his assertion that Pygmalion was written to impress upon the public the importance of phoneticians is immaterial. Pygmalion, like all of Shaw’s best plays, transcends its author’s didactic intent. The play is performed and read not for Shaw’s pet theories but for the laughter its plot and characters provoke.

The play is a modern adaptation of the Pygmalion myth (although some have claimed that it is a plagiarism of Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, 1751), in which the sculptor-king Pygmalion falls in love with Galatea, a creature of his own making, a statue that the goddess Aphrodite, pitying him, brings to life. The Pygmalion of Shaw’s play turns up as Henry Higgins, a teacher of English speech; his Galatea is Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl whom Higgins transforms into a seeming English lady by teaching her to speak cultivated English. In the process of transforming a poor, uneducated girl into a lady, Higgins irrevocably changes a human life. By lifting Eliza above her own class and providing her with no more than the appurtenances of another, Higgins makes her unfit for both. On this change and Higgins’s stubborn refusal to accept its reality and its consequences, Shaw builds his play.

From the beginning, when Higgins first observes her dialectal monstrosities, Eliza is characterized as a proud, stubborn girl, though educated only by the circumstances of her poverty and gutter environment. She has the courage to ask Higgins to make good his boast that he can pass her off as a duchess within a matter of months, and she calls on him and offers to pay him for elocution lessons that will enable her to work as a saleswoman in a flower shop. Like all the proud, she is also sensitive, and she tries to break off the interview when Higgins persists in treating her as his social inferior.

Higgins can best be understood in contrast to Colonel Pickering, his foil, who finances the transformation. As a fellow phonetician, Pickering approves of the project as a scientific experiment, but as a gentleman and a sensitive human being, he sympathizes with Eliza. It is Higgins’s uproariously tragic flaw that he, like all of Shaw’s heroes, is not a gentleman. He is brilliant and cultured, but he lacks manners and refuses to learn or even affect any, believing himself to be superior to the conventions and civilities of polite society and preferring to treat everyone with bluntness and candor. He is, or so he thinks until Eliza leaves him, a self-sufficient man. When he discovers that she has made herself an indispensable part of his life, he goes to her and, in one of the most remarkable courtship scenes in the history of the theater, pleads with her to live with Pickering and himself as three dedicated bachelors. At the end of the play, he is confident that she will accept his unorthodox proposition, even when she bids him good-bye forever.

As a matter of fact, Shaw himself was never able to convince anyone that Eliza and Higgins did not marry and live happily ever after. The first producer of the play, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, insisted on leaving the impression that the two were reconciled in the end as lovers, and this tradition has persisted. Enraged as always by any liberties taken with his work, Shaw wrote an essay that he attached to the play as a sequel in which he denounces sentimental interpretations of Pygmalion. He concedes that Pygmalion is a romance in that its heroine undergoes an almost miraculous change, but he argues that the logic of the characterization does not permit a conventional happy ending. Higgins is, after all, a god and Eliza only his creation; an abyss separates them. Furthermore, Shaw contends, their personalities, backgrounds, and philosophies are irreconcilable. Higgins is an inveterate bachelor and likely to remain so because he will never find a woman who can meet the standards he has set for ideal womanhood—those set by his mother. Eliza, on the other hand, being young and pretty, can always find a husband whose demands on a woman would not be impossible to meet. Therefore, Shaw insists, Eliza marries Freddy Eynsford Hill, a penniless but devoted young man who has only an insignificant role in the play. Stubbornly, Shaw does not even permit them the luxury of living happily ever after: They have financial problems that are gradually solved by their opening a flower shop subsidized by Colonel Pickering. Shaw’s Pygmalion is too awe-inspiring for his Galatea ever to presume to love him.

Even with the addition of this unconventional ending to the play, Pygmalion would be highly atypical of Shavian drama were it not for the presence of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father. Through Doolittle, Shaw is able to indulge in economic and social moralizing, an ingredient with which Shaw could not dispense. Like Eliza, Doolittle undergoes a transformation as a result of Higgins’s meddling, a transformation that in his case is, however, unpremeditated. Early in the play, Doolittle fascinates Higgins and Pickering with his successful attempt to capitalize on Eliza’s good fortune. He literally charms Higgins out of five pounds by declaring himself an implacable foe of middle-class morality and insisting that he will use the money for a drunken spree. Delighted with the old scoundrel, Higgins mentions him in jest in a letter to a crackpot American millionaire, who subsequently bequeaths Doolittle a yearly allowance of three thousand pounds if he will lecture on morality. Thus this dustman becomes transformed into a lion of London society, and the reprobate becomes a victim of bourgeois morality. Although he appears only twice in the play, Doolittle is so vigorous and funny that he is almost as memorable a comic character as Higgins.

The play itself is memorable because of its vigor and fun, notwithstanding Shaw’s protestations about its message. It is likely that Shaw insisted so strenuously on the serious intent of the play because he too realized that Pygmalion is his least serious and least didactic play. In 1956, Pygmalion was adapted into the Broadway musical My Fair Lady; the musical, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, was extremely successful, and several revivals have been produced since that time. A film version of My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza and Rex Harrison as Higgins, was released in 1964.

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