’s Pygmalion Essay, Research Paper
George Bernard Shaw s play Pygmalion is the story of Henry Higgins, a master phonetician, and his mischievous plot to pass a common flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, off as a duchess at the Embassy Ball. In order achieve his goal, Higgins must teach Eliza how to speak properly and how to act in upper-class society. The play pokes fun at middle class morality and upper-class superficiality, reflects the social ills of nineteenth century England, and attests that all people are worthy of respect and dignity.
Pygmalion pokes fun at middle class morality through the characterization of Mr. Doolittle, Eliza s father. Mr. Doolittle is a common dustman,” an indolent man who spends his time drinking alcohol at the local pub. He is not too proud to beg for money, even from Eliza. Moreover, he lives with a woman to whom he is not married. When Henry Higgins writes to a politician and refers to him as the best moralist speaker in London, Mr. Doolittle is forced into the middle class, and thus he must adhere to middle-class morality. This means he is expected go to church, marry his live-in girlfriend, give up alcohol, refrain from picking up women, and give money to his impoverished relatives.
Eliza is faced with a similar situation. After Higgins introduces her to fine society, Eliza can not go back to being a flower girl. Her former acquaintances do not recognize her anymore. She is miserable and confused. Shaw maintains that perhaps it would be better if Higgins had never introduced Eliza and her father to upper class society.
Pygmalion also pokes fun at the superficiality of upper class society, a society in which social status is determined by the language that one speaks, one s manners, and the clothes one wears. It is astounding that Higgins is able to pass Eliza off as an aristocrat, and Hungarian royalty at that, merely by altering her appearance and speech. The wealthy are so superficial they can not see past Eliza s appearance.
On a deeper level, Pygmalion addresses the social ills in England at the turn of the century. Victorian England was characterized by extreme class division and limited social mobility. Language separated the aristocracy from the lower class. In Pygmalion, Eliza s cockney dialect inhibits her from procuring a job in a flower shop.
Indeed, the play reflects George Bernard Shaw s socialist views. Shaw was a great advocate of education for the working classes and social equality. As a member of the Fabian Society, Shaw worked to educate the public through seminars, schools, discussions, and lectures. He believed in evolutionary or democratic socialism–the idea that wealth should be gradually redistributed among all classes through public ownership of industry and business (Compton s 95). Shaw s background as a political and social reformer is reflected in Pygmalion.
Above all, Pygmalion is about the universal truth that all people are worthy of respect and dignity, from the wealthy nobleman to the beggar on the street corner. The difference between a common flower girl and a duchess, apart from appearance and demeanor, is the way she is treated. Treat the flower girl as if she were a duchess, worthy of respect and decency, and she will become a better person as a result.
Shaw, George Bernard. Compton s Concise Encyclopedia. Compton s
NewMedia, Inc., 1995.