Pygmalion And Its Characters Essay, Research Paper
Choose a character and analyze the standards of the fictional society in which the character exists; how the character is affected by and responds to those standards; and how the character s reactions develop meaning in the work.
“Pygmalion,” a play by Bernard Shaw, is a mixture of a romantic comedy and a satire in which the main character, Eliza Doolittle, is judged only based on her English dialect. Shaw s play makes fun of a society that evaluates its citizens on their particular dialect rather than their character. As a result, Eliza is forced into the metamorphosis from a common flower girl into a lady.
In the opening scene of Act One, Eliza has to fend for herself and vehemently asserts the virtue and sacredness of her character, which society fails to recognize. In this scene, the note taker, who will later be identified as Henry Higgins, repeats exactly what Eliza says: Cheer ap, Keptin; n baw ya flahr orf a pore gel. At this point, he realizes she is from Lisson Grove, a less-than-wealthy area of England. Furthermore, Shaw foreshadows the importance for Eliza to improve her speech if she wishes to get ahead in life. In other words, she will spend the rest of her life as a flower girl, even though her character may be more upstanding than that of a duchess.
Even in this pathetic state Eliza is not totally depraved. She is self-sufficient and capable of earning her living by selling flowers. She exhibits cleverness and a degree of resourcefulness to get the maximum value possible for her flowers. She even has enough self-respect and pride to defend her honor when, as a flower girl, she feels she is being accused of trying to molest a gentleman. Though still preoccupied with her wounded feelings because the note taker was writing down her words, she says, He s no right to take away my character. My character is the same to me as any lady s. This statement is a prime example of her pride.
By hiring a cab, at the end of Act One, Eliza reveals her ambition to improve herself; using the money Higgins has thrown into her basket. This is the first step in her quest for self-awareness. The cab acts as symbol that carries her over the threshold from the shabby indigent world to the comforts of genteel life in Act Two.
In Act Two when Eliza first arrives at Higgins house he says, Why, this is the girl I jotted down last night. She s no use: I’ve got all the records I want of the Lisson Grove lingo; and I m not going to waste another cylinder on it. Be off with you: I don t want you.
This type of diction shows the way high-class society, represented by Higgins and Pickering, feels about the lower class citizens, represented by Eliza. She responds by saying, Don t you be so saucy. Her attitude shows that she will not allow the upper class society to criticize her. She haughtily demands that Higgins teach her to speak properly so she can become a lady in a flower ship instead of selling flowers.
Evidently at this stage, Eliza only craves the economic security and social respectability that would come with her ability to speak correctly. She does not know that this desire for security and respectability only constitutes the second small step in her larger quest for self-realization. Nevertheless, she is required to purge both her body and soul before she can ascend to a higher plane of awareness. Her haughty air is soon reduced to confusion, fear, and helplessness as she bears the tyrannical outbursts of Higgins who insultingly calls her a baggage and a draggle-tailed guttersnipe.
By the fifth scene, Eliza becomes a self-reliant woman, capable of facing reality. Her English is proper by this scene and she says, How do you do, Professor Higgins? Are you quite well?
In addition to speaking proper English, Eliza has not lost her sense of self-pride. She says to Higgins, I don t care how you treat me. I don t mind your swearing at me. I shouldn t mind a black eye: I ve had one before this. But I wont be passed over. Although Eliza s speech has changed throughout the play, she still remains self-sufficient.