Pygmalion Essay Essay, Research Paper
According to a Greek myth, Pygmalion, an ancient sculptor living on Cyprus Island, worshipped the goddess of love, Venus. The local women disgusted him, so he sculpted himself the perfect one for him; Galatea. Higgins undertakes a similar project, to sculpt a duchess by changing the appearance and the manners of a flower girl. In his “Pygmalion,” Shaw teases his audience, foreshadowing a Cinderella-like romantic play. He further mocks the audience by allowing Higgins to be the fairy godmother of this romance, creating his “Cinderella” out of a simple flower girl. After the ball, however, it becomes clear that Eliza is as a better person than Higgins. Shaw makes his audience realize that just like Cinderella, Eliza was a duchess even when her appearance and spoken word were that of a flower girl. Shaw further manifests that her father will always remain a bum regardless of his finances or appearance, and Higgins will live the rest of his life as an impolite bachelor who cares for nothing but his work. By changing the appearance and the social class of his characters while keeping their personalities constant, Shaw makes a critical point; people can only change their image, popularity and wealth, but will always remain the same on the inside.
The character of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father remains unchanged throughout the play. Shaw depicts him as a bum, in Doolittle’s first appearance in act II, who literally sells his daughter for some inconsiderable amount of money. He is presented as a lowlife nobody, who likes to drink and does not like to have any responsibilities. When he appears in act five, however, Shaw dresses him as a gentleman and gives him the wealth of a millionaire. Doolittle’s views of life, however, remain unchanged. Having money, forces him to accept responsibility, which he clearly regards as a burden. He longs for the days when he drank without a single care in the world. Shaw emphasizes that his character does not change regardless of his new social status. Shaw is very specific filling Higgins’ character as an impolite workaholic whom cares about nothing, other than his phonetics. From the begging of the play, he only talks about his work, bragging that he can tell anyone’s birthplace within six miles by his or her dialect. This continues through to the end of the play, when he is more enraged that his “creation” will work for his rival and teach phonetics than the fact that Eliza is leaving him for a dumber but kinder Freddy. Higgins lives in a lab with “a student of Indian dialects,” Colonel Pickering. Higgins’ manners force even his mother to be ashamed of him in front of her guests and in church where this student of Milton enjoys mocking the dialect of clergymen. It is clear that Higgins does not care about his mother’s opinion of him. He does not care about Eliza; he turns her world upside down, creating a duchess but continues to treat her like a guinea pig rather than a person. Higgins does not even care about himself. He always has and always will care only about his work.
The theme of Shaw’s “Pygmalion” lies in such consistency. Higgins is professor of phonetics, a student of Milton and Shakespeare, an imprudent and inconsiderate bachelor, forever. Shaw builds the character of Eliza from a simpleminded flower girl living on the street. In the opening act, Higgins shames her: “A woman who utters depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere, no right to live.” She cries upon the simplest provocation. Just as it is difficult to picture this street bum with a flower basket, as a duchess, it is difficult to conceive how someone like Higgins with his grotesque manners can create a genteel duchess, especially from a girl off the street. But Higgins’ “Cinderella” nevertheless triumphs at the ambassador’s ball. Act four, however brings up an intense conflict between Eliza and Higgins. In this confrontation, Shaw portrays Eliza as an intelligent duchess whose manners and dress brought out her individuality.
Her creator remains rude and continues to treat her as a guinea pig. Shaw forces his audience to sympathize with Eliza, whose character is intrinsically better than Higgins’. But how could this artificial creation, which has been intensely programmed to substitute morals for manners surpass her creator, the rude professor of phonetics? Eliza was a duchess before she ever met Higgins or Pickering. She was simply a slave to her poverty and only appeared to be simpleminded. Living with two “elite” men, she learned the best from each of them, bringing out her individuality. From Higgins, she learned how to speak correctly, and from the respect granted to her by Pickering, she learned to respect herself. Even her “creator” admits at the very end, she was “like a millstone around his neck, now she is a tower of strength, a consort battleship.” Self respect makes the image of a flower girl off the street to evolve into an image of a duchess, nevertheless, the fact that she surpasses her “creator” proves that Eliza always remains the same person on the inside. Pygmalion (the sculptor) resembles Higgins only on the surface, he builds the perfect woman, while Higgins simply gives a poor duchess an opportunity to change her image. Similarly, all Shaw’s characters in “Pygmalion,” change only on the surface (if at all); they remain the same people on the inside regardless of circumstances.