, Research Paper
Since almost the beginning of civilisation, people have been divided into social classes. There was always an upper class; rich, powerful and in control. Then there was a middle class; less comfortably off than the upper class, and certainly less powerful, but respected nonetheless. Last of all (and usually least) the lower working class making up the majority of people, rarely having the necessities of life and never considered by other classes no matter how long or hard they worked on improving their situation. In the following essay, I will discuss whether George Bernard Shaw agreed with this distinction and division of society and how he exhibited his views through his renowned play “Pygmalion”.
Throughout the play, ladies and gentleman are continuously recognised for who they are through four factors: how they are dressed, their manners, how they speak and their money. It is however noticeable that a combination of all four factors is rarely to be found. For instance Henry Higgins, although well – dressed, well spoken and with money, has manners which could not be characterised as genteel. Alfred Doolittle (after acquiring some money) is well dressed, has some form of manners and could be classified as rich, yet is not well spoken. Nevertheless, when the maid opens the door to him she instantly percieves that he is a gentleman. So what really does make a lady or a gentleman?
Many times during the play the difference between the appearance of the classes is expressed. It is especially noticeable in the first two acts. An indication of this would be when Higgins is distinguished as a gentleman and not a detective because of the boots he is wearing.
Bystander: “E’s a gentleman, look at his boots.”
The bystander obviously knew what sort of clothing a gentleman would wear. This implies that it was well known what kind of boots were worn by whom, which means that the difference between the classes was so apparent that everyone was aware of the boundaries of their class. Another model for this distinction would be when Alfred Doolittle arrives at Wimpole St, in the second act, and doesn’t even recognise his own daughter, Eliza, just because she has been washed and elegantly dressed.
Alfred: Beg Pardon, miss.
Eliza: Garn! Don’t you know your own daughter?
Alfred: Bly me! Its Eliza.
This demonstrates that the working class were not used to washing and dressing up, which was customary for the upper class. The dissimilarity in the appearance of the upper class from the working class was so sensational that even someone who was your own flesh and blood could be naturally mistaken. This trend of depicting appearances goes right through to the end of the play, when on arrival at Mrs Higgins’ house, Doolittle is mistaken for a gentleman by the maid, merely because of the way he is dressed
Higgins: Doolittle! Do you mean a dustman?
Maid: Dustman! Oh no sir, a gentleman.
The appearance of Doolittle is taken into main consideration when it comes to deciding what class he belongs to. The question is the raised, what separates the classes really, if clothing can do so much for how someone is perceived. Apart from the way people dress, they are also defined by the way they speak. In Pygmalion the way people converse is a very important part of the play, not least because the structure of it is based on the fact that Eliza can’t speak “properly” and Higgins can teach he how. It was obviously considerably important to speak well at that time, which is emphasised by Shaw over and over again. The play even starts with Higgins criticising the way that Eliza speaks, because it is not only up to standard compared to “proper” English it will also resultantly keep her in the gutter for the rest of her days. He expresses that he could teach even someone with such dreadful pronunciation within 3 – 6 months, this already means that whether you can speak adequately or not doesn’t actually mean anything, if you can be taught how to in such a short period of time. Noticeably Shaw doesn’t make it a must to speak correctly, this is probably for the reason that a lady or gentleman, although would preferably have to have good English, would not necessarily have perfect English to be accepted into the upper class. This is demonstrated by Nepommuck at the ambassadors ball ”
Can you show me any Englishwoman who speaks English as it should be spoken”.
This leaves only money. There will always be a division between the classes simply because there shall never be equality in money, but this is not what distinguishes ladies and gentlemen from flower girls and dustman. I believe, out of all the contrasts between classes, that manners are the most important cause of distinction. For it is true that money can buy a lot, titles, clothes, but it cannot buy manners, and in my opinion Eliza is right when she says:
“Really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick (the dressing and the proper way of speaking and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she is treated I learnt really nice manners and that’s what makes one a lady.”
Because isn’t the way you are treated more important then what you are treated to?
In conclusion, I believe that Shaw strongly comprehended that the classes were divided for all the wrong reasons, and that the important reasons were always blocked out, because the way people treat each other really does determine what class they are in. If every working class citizen was treated as a Duke, there wouldn’t be inequality because even money can’t control people’s kindness. In the Bible it is stated that in the eyes of God we are all equal, no matter how we speak, what our financial status is, or what we dress in, that love cannot be bought and sold, but only given, so doesn’t it mean that our manners towards each other determine whether we are of higher or lower class?