THE PROMETHEAN PASSION FOR IMPROVING THE RACE
(A STUDY OF THE
PROBLEM OF EQUALITY IN SHAW'S MASTER-PIECE, "PYGMALION" )
1913, Shaw published Pygmalion, a satire on snobbery and a
participation to educational theory (1). It is a play about education,
a subject with which Shaw was more than concerned (2). In Pygmalion, Eliza,
through whom Shaw’s conception of education is revealed, learns not only
upper-class sounds but also self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Yet, the
central theme of the play remains :“the contrast
between the Promethean passion for improving the race and the ordinary human
desire for the comforts and consolations of the domestic hearth” (4). It is a
contrast between the vital and the mechanical, between the living person and
his artificial social role (5).
Pygmalion, Shaw dramatizes the whole world in which “people play roles that
have often been artificially, and cruelly, forced upon them” (6). Hence, much
of the play deals with role-playing. Elisa is trained for a role of a lady in
a flower shop, like an actress; her father, Alfred Doolittle, becomes a
performer and a lecturer for Wannafeller Moral
Reform World League; Henry Higgins lacks social manners and is accordingly a
bad actor in a play within a play... (7). The two major characters through
whose fates the message of the play is expressed are Alfred Doolittle and his
daughter, Eliza Doolittle. By the end of the play, both achieve a new social
role through two different means: Eliza through education and Doolittle
through money (8), as the following sketch of the events of the play
Colonel Pickering’s financial support, Henry Higgins, a celebrated
phonetician, undertakes the responsibility of changing Eliza Doolittle, a
common flower girl, into a duchess within six months in an ambassador’s party
by teaching her proper English pronunciation. Being interested only in his
bet and in showing his talent to the world, Higgins continually abuses Eliza
while teaching her without taking into account her feelings and future, in an
attempt to get her ready to win the bet for him in the ambassador’s party. In
the same time, Higgins, for the sake of fun, writes a letter to one American
millionaire that Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father, a poor dustman, is the
most original moralist in England and is fit for a lecturer for
that millonaire’s Moral Reform World League. He
does it without Doolittle’s consent.
trying-out of Eliza takes place at Mrs. Higgins’s at-home day, and it is
successful because nobody among the guests can identify her as Eliza the
flower girl (9). The real test, however, remains the one at the ambassador’s
party. It is similarly successful, and it is Eliza’s public debut in society
(10). Though she wins the bet for him, Higgins does not condescend to utter
the slightest word of congratulation to Eliza. On the contrary, he continues
abusing her and ordering her to fetch him his slippers, which will incite
Eliza to revolt against him as she makes sure that Higgins does not care for
In the same time, Alfred Doolittle, who has
inherited a bequest worth three thousand pounds a year, comes to blame
Higgins for having turned him into a gentleman, for he likes his old status
as a dustman, in which he was happy. In the same fashion, Eliza reproaches
Higgins for his having turned her into a good-for-nothing lady, unable to
earn even her living. The play ends with Eliza’s going to marry Freddy. As
for Doolittle, he is going to church to celebrate his wedding ceremony as a
middle-class man. Higgins, creator of all these transformations, is quite
satisfied with his achievement.
The end in
Pygmalion echoes the one in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, with Nora slamming the
door on Helmer. Like A Doll’s House, Pygmalion, has no definite resolution
(11). Maurice Valency sums up the difference
between the two plays in what follows:
“Ibsen framed his
play along the lines of conventional domestic drama, so that his final
situation seemed both unusual and shocking, Pygmalion, on the other hand, was
based on a fairy tale... It is difficult to imagine anything artistically
more inept than a rationalistic conclusion of the Cindrella
therefore, gives the most popular fairy-tale story a quite rationalistic
conclusion in order to emphasize the invalidity of idle feelings and romantic
thinking. In this fashion, Shaw brings in the focus the inevitability and
omnipresence of reason. For this reason, Shaw reverses the Cindrella story and disappoints the audience’s
expectation of a happy marriage between Higgins and Eliza, and the
reconciliation of the other characters; by making Eliza refuse Higgins.
a reversal of happy ending of the Cindrella story
on the level of dramatic techniques is accompanied, on the level of thought,
by a reversal of the social conventions, beliefs, values and ideals. This is
best shown in Pygmalion through the continuous contrast between the
established order and the ideal order: Between the capitalist system imposed on society with all its hypercritical,
exploiting and class nature, and the shavian order
in which society, people, morality, social manners are unified and seen as
respect, Bernard Shaw writes that reality is the result of many factors that
cannot be simplified but considered as they are: Because simplification
entails dividing facts into positive and negative, deeds into right and
wrong, people into heroes and villains, society into high and low classes...
(13). All such divisions aim at stratifying society, and at giving authority
to some class of people and bestowing validity to their pretension to dignity
(14), which will only strenghthen the class
considering things as entities, society will be classeless,
not as a gathering of disparate classes; people will be mere human beings,
not as gentlemen and common men; women will be as human as man; morality will
be based on real humanity, not on right and wrong; manners will be the same
for all situations and with all people; speech will be standardized and will
no longer refer the speaker’s class or origin... It is in such unification of
social and moral concepts that the problem of “equality” in Pygmalion finds
his way towards solution.
Equality at the level of social classes:
opening scene sets a group of prolitarians -some
timidly deferential, some sarcastically impolite- along with an impoverished
middle-class family with genteel pretensions, and two gentlemen –all under a
church portico (15). It is quite plain from such a class distinction as it is
revealed through Eliza’s actions that the society which Bernard Shaw is
dealing with is a class society. Eliza Doolittle is quite aware of the class
system and the class values and she exploits them to her own interest by
using flatters as a medium in order to win Pickreing’s
and Higgins’s favours and pity, and make them buy her flowers.
So cheer up, Captain; and by a flower off a poor girl” (P.18).
By a flower, kind gentlemen. I’m short for my lodging” (P.28).
avails herself of her low-class situation and attracts customers and make them buy her flowers (16). She even can make Mrs. Eynsford Hill pay for the flowers Freddy has spoilt, profitting from the Eynsford Hills’
snobery and gentility.
Eliza is class-conscious. She knows
that lower-class girls talking with gentlemen are accused of prostitution.
That is the reason why Eliza reacts hysterically when she hears that a
police-informer is copying down her words (17).
“I’m a respectable girl: So help me, I never spoke to him except to ask
him to buy a flower off me” (PP. 19-20).
“... He’s no right to take away my character. My character is the same to me
as any lady’s” (P.26).
She reacts so because she
believes herself to belong to a class that cannot afford lawyers, and
–accordingly- she has to be loud and vigorous in her protestations of virtue
Louis Crompton considers vulgarity as, specifically, a class trait (19).
Eliza is vulgarly familiar with customers, vulgarly hysterical in fear of
offence, and vulgarly keen on calling people “gentlemen” and “lady” (20).
Clara is another example of vulgarity. She is even worse than Eliza (21).
Clara is suspicious and as quick to take offence as the flower-girl (22). She
quickly rebukes Higgins, who tries to localize her from her speech: “Don’t
dare to speak to me” (p.25). Vulgarity is a trait of the lower classes as
opposed to the formalities of the upper classes: Throughout the play, Mrs.
Higgins, for example, is shown to be self-controlled, phlegmatic, formal...
The contrast between social
classes, however, is better revealed through Doollittle’s
and Eliza’s journey upward in the social hierarchy. In Mrs. Higgins’ at-home
day, Eliza says:
“When he [her father] was out of work (23), my mother used to give him
four pence and tell him to go out and not come back until he’d drunk himself
cheerful and loving-like. Theres lots of women has to make their husbands drunk to make
them fit to live with... If a man has a bit of conscience, it always takes
him when he is sober; and then it makes him low-spirited. A drop of booze
just takes that off and makes him happy” (P.77) (24).
Doolittle, in Act Two, comes for five-pound note:
“I don’t eat less hearty than him [deserving man]; and I drink a lot
more. I want a bit of amusement... I want cheerfulness and a song and a band
when I feel low” (P.58).
“Don’t be afraid that I’ll save it and spare it [five-pound note] and live
idle on it. There wont be
a penny of it left by Monday: I’ll have to work same as if I never had it”
Doolittle refuses Higgins’s ten-pound note and takes
only five pounds:
“Ten pounds is a lot of money: It makes a man feel prudent-like; and
then goodbye to happiness” (P.59).
When Doolittle rises in the world, the values of the middle class are
revealed to us through his situation:
“I was happy. I was free. I touched pretty nigh everybody for money
when I wanted it, same as I touched you Enry Iggins. Now I am worrited...
and everybody thouches me for money... A year ago I
hadnt a relative in the world except two or three
that wouldnt speak to me. Now Ive
fifty... I have to live for others not for myself” (P. 116).
“Happier men than me will call for my dust, and touch me for their tip:
and I’ll look on helpless, and envy them” (P.117).
As for Mrs. Doolittle, Eliza’s formerly-wicked step-mother, she has
completely changed with the rise of her social situation:
“She never comes to words with
any one now, poor woman! Respectability has broke all the spirit out of her” (P.124).
From the contrast between these two stages of
Doolittle’s social status –first, as an undeserving poor; then, as a
middle-class man- society is disclosed as highly stratified to the extent
that Margery Morgan has been able to distinguish between two distinct values
of two disparate classes: The values of the under-privileged are
characterized by idleness, open-handedness, high spirits, festive eating and
drinking, happiness, freedom from care, hedonism and a form of serial
polygamy; whereas the values of capitalism are work, thrift, responsibility,
abstinence, respectability, prudence, puritanism and chaste monogamy (25).
Higgins himself is aware of the class system. Hence, when Eliza comes to his
laboratory to have lessons in phonetics, and offered to pay one shilling per
hour for learning English, Higgins accepts the cost as he draws a comparison
between the sum that Eliza offers to pay and that a millionaire can do:
“You know, Pickering, if you consider a shilling,
not as a simple shilling, but as a percentage of this girl’s income, it works
out as fully equivalent to sixty or seventy guineas from a
“She offers me two-fifths of her day’s income for a
day would be somewhere about
£.60. It’s handsome. By George, it’s enormous! It’s the biggest offer I ever
By comparing Eliza’s
offer to that of a millionaire, Higgins alludes to the class nature of
society. Yet, the most important in that comparison is the fact the Higgins
does not accept the offer as Eliza offers it but as a millionaire would. The
equation of Eliza to a millionaire shows Higgins transcendence of the
conventional thinking which cannot grasp reality unless simplified. Higgins
sees society as indivisible whole, and need not divide it into classes. He
believes that his job is “filling the gap that separates class from class and
soul from soul” (P.82). Because “there are no third-class carriages, and one
soul is as good as another” (P.126).
Yet, out of the desire to unify society, there grows
a need to strike at poverty, being the heart of all social splits and
divisions. Shaw is influenced by Samuel Butler’s “poverty is the worst of all
crimes” (26). Following the same tradition, Shaw believes that poverty is the
source of all evils; and putting an end to evil means abolishing, first and
foremost, poverty. In this way, Bernard Shaw, by presenting Alfred Doolittle
as a blackmailer and as a man who sells his daughter for the sake of
drinking, aims as a socialist to abolish the poor as a class from existence
since such people are dangerous and contemptible (27). Hence, the necessity
of obliterating class distinctions for the sake of a future class-less
For this purpose, Shaw believes that
individuals should take their proper places in the social hierarchy regardless
of the class into which they were born (28):
“For Shaw caste is essentially a matter of character and ability, not
of birth, so that once the individual is cut free of the restrictions of
class, he tends to find his own level in the human hierarchy. Social mobility
is indispensable to the evolutionary process” (29)
In Pygmalion, in the light of this citation, Eliza and her father are
highly evolved individuals whose potentialities would normally be stifled by
the limitations of a rigidly social environment (30). Eliza is emancipated by
education, and Doolittle by money (31). After her
development, Eliza has given up her former vulgarity and commonness and she
has grown a typical petite bourgeoise (32) who is
no longer fit for “gutter” jobs, and who judges the world wholly in relation
to herself (33). That is, unlike Higgins’s interest in humanity and his
scientific passion for reform, Eliza Doolittle sees life and personal
relations in commercial terms, as Higgins observes (34). As for Doolittle, he
joins the middle class and is haunted with the care for respectability all
the rest of his life (35).
Yet, Eliza and Doolittle show disapproval of
the change in their situation. Doolittle, in Act Five, comes to blame Higgins : “It’s making a gentleman of me that I object to.
Who asked him to make a gentleman of me? I was happy. I was free” (P.116). In
the same fashion, Eliza rebukes Higgins for having changed her: “Why didnt you leave me where you picked me out of? –in the
gutter” (P.100). She continues lamenting: “I sold flowers. I didnt sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not
fit to sell anything else. I wish you left me where you found me” (P103).
Eliza’s and Doolittle disapprobation of the
change of their situation shows that social mobility can be both perilous and
uncomfortable though it is indispensable to the evolution of society (36).
Yet, Shaw does not consider personal happiness as the end of human existence
(37). He believes that “we must not think about and concern ourselves but
lose ourselves in what is greater than and external to the self” (38). This
quotation is parroted by Higgins: “Eliza... think of
other people’s futures; but never think of your own” (P.45). Maurice Valency resumes this philosophy as follows:
“The evolutionary principle involves a constant
displacement of individuals within the class structure. The result is
doubtless of benefit to the species, but it is not uniformly pleasant for the
Evolution, therefore, is all that matters; and life continues its own
development indifferent to individual suffering (40). That is the reason why
Alfred Doolittle, who is ignorant of the “uiversal law ” feels “intimidated” into evolution. Doolittle does
not want to change his situation: “I’m undeserving; and I mean to go on being
undeserving. I like it; and thats
the truth” (P.58). In Pygmalion, Henry Higgins symbolizes Life (41): he
identifies with nobody; he is inhuman; and all his attention is focused on
getting Eliza “out of the gutter” and preparing her to win his “own” bet.
Besides, Higgins is the one who has changed both Eliza’s and Doolittle’s
situation without checking their consent.
Life, then, is aware of its purpose and
need not bother about the individual protests. It is perhaps for this reason
that Doolittle is dragged out of the lower classes. Doolittle as a
lower-class man, was spent-thrift, hedonist,
drunkard, and he would beat his wives. With the social mobility he has
undergone, the slightest standards of decency that Doolittle acquires is a
positive gain (42) if we take into consideration the immoral values he had.
By inserting Doolittle and Eliza into the
upper classes, the norms of social classes are violated and class
restrictions are shattered, and the classless society is clearer. It is on
the basis of this classless society that “equality” will be established.
Shaw, here, seems to have developed a gradualistic
approach in advocating “equality”. This is most evident in his stressing the
importance of education and the inevitability of establishing new social
values as repudiation of the capitalist values which are based on class
EQUALITY AT THE LEVEL OF SOCIAL VALUES:
George Bernard Shaw deals with various aspects of the dominant social values
under capitalism. His main concern is to correct those values in such a
fashion as to make them go with the classless society and the “equality” he
preaches in his philosophy. He attacks the dominant capitalist values through
exposing their conventional and outdated role that reinforce the class system
and the class restrictions laid upon the individual.
The first major theme which Shaw develops for this purpose is the
relationship between speech and class status (43).
In the portico of St. Paul’s Church, through Henry Higgins’s detecting
people’s speeches, many accents which are different from the standard
pronunciation comes to the surface. This reflects the class society that the
play depicts. Hence, from their own words and accents, Higgins can identify:
Eliza as native of Lisson
Pickering of Cambridge,
Mrs. Eynsford Hill of Epson,
The bystander of Selsey,
The sarcastic bystander of Hoxton,
Alfred Doolittle as brought up in Hounslow...
Shaw even uses phonetic alphabet to highlight
this idea of “multi-accent”. In Act One, after Freddy throws her
flower-basket down when rushing out of the portico, Eliza shouts in her own
accent: “Nah then, Freddy: look wh’ y’ gowin, deah” (P.15). Shaw
transcribes it phonetically to clarify the idea of the relationship between
speech and class status though he is able to write Eliza’s words in normal
spelling –probably as the following: “Now then, Freddy; look where you are
Such an accent is likely to attract the attention of a phonetician in the
size of Henry Higgins, he remarks:
“A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right
to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift
of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of
Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible; and dont sit
there crooning like a bilious pigeon” (P.27).
Here, Higgins compares
Eliza’s sounds with those of Shakespeare and Milton in order to shock her
into awareness of “lower-class” accent. Later, Higgins even will undertake to
teach Eliza proper English pronunciation. It may sound queer that a low,
common girl like Eliza should talk like a lady; but Shaw’s aim is the
estrangement of the girl from class restrictions embodied here at the level
In this respect, Shaw, in his preface to
Pygmalion, applauds the new scientific approach to language by phoneticians
because it raises pronunciation above the intense self-consciousness and
class snobbery (44). Accordingly, Higgins teaches Eliza proper English
pronunciation in order to emancipate her of her class status. He tells his
mother, Mrs. Higgins: “she talks English almost as you talk French” (P.70).
Even Nepommuck, famous translator at the
ambassador’s party, is cheated by Eliza’s speech owing to the violation of
the relationship between speech and class status. He believes Eliza to be a
Hungarian princess because she speaks English “too perfectly. Can you show me
any English woman who speaks English as it should be spoken? Only foreigners
who have been taught to speak it speak it well” (P.94).
By Eliza’s success in speaking in an alien accent,
the relationship between speech and class status is broken. The main point
here is that dialects have no intrinsic dramatic or social significance and
that the real basis of our reaction to anyone’s dialect is our association of
particular kind of speech with particular classes and particular manners”
(45). Shaw’s attempt to free the individual from class restrictions is
carried at the level of social manners.
In Pygmalion, manners are best discussed and focused
on at Mrs. Higgins’s at-home day, which starts with Mrs. Higgins asking her
son, Henry Higgins, out because he spoils her parties with his lack of
manners. This is Shown in action when the Hills have come: Higgins does not
shake hands with the guests or entertain them with a small talk. Instead of
answering Clara’s: “How do you do?”, he stares at her:
“Ive seen you before somewhere. I havent the ghost of a notionwhere;
but Ive heard your voice. [drearily] It doesnt matter. You better sit down” (P.70).
Higgins uses no form of
politeness: no “please”, no “would you mind setting down?”, nor any other
form. He uses a quasi-imperative word to show his lack of social manners and
his inexperience with societies. Higgins even leaves the guests and “goes to
the central window, through which, with his back to the company, he
contemplates the river...” (P.71).
Similarly, when Freddy comes in to join the party,
Higgins, instead of answering back Freddy’s greeting, says, looking at Freddy
“as if he were a pickpocket” (P.72): “I’ll take my oath Ive
met you before somewhere. Where was it?” (P.72). Then he “shakes Freddy’s
hand and almost slings him on to the ottoman” (P.72). Higgins comes from the
window and sits with the society and almost brutally says: “And now, what the
devil are we going to talk about until Eliza comes?” (P.72).
Having no small talks, he stars:
“You see we’re all savages, more or less, we’re supposed to be
civilized and cultured –to know all about poetry and philosophy and art and
science, and so on; but how many of us know even the meaning of these names?
[to Miss. Hill] What do you know of poetry? [to Mrs. Hill] What do you know
of science? [indicating Freddy] What does he know of art or science or
anything else? What the devil do you imagine I know of philosophy” (P.73).
As the diction and the topic of the citation
indicate, Shaw’s Prometheus of phonetics is without manners (46).Yet, he is
neither a snob like Clara, nor a vulgar like Eliza, nor even a gentleman
like Pickering (48). At home, he takes his boots off and wipes his
hands on his dressing gown, etc (49).
As far as Eliza is concerned, when Mrs. Higgins asks her if it will rain, she
“The shallow depression in the west of these
islands is likely to move slowly in an easterly direction. There are no
indications of any great change in the barometrical situation” (P.75).
Eliza is Higgins’s creation and is, accordingly, his device to violate
conventions, here, embodied in social manners. So, in the quotation Eliza’s
reciting the weather forecast gives two scientific informations
to be an answer for Mrs. Higgins’s conventional question. Another instance of
the violation of social manners is Eliza’s small talk: she uses very formal
language where the subject is quite low. That is, she expresses gutter ideas
in aristocratic diction (50). The third instance of Eliza’s violation of
social manners takes place when Freddy asks her if she will walk across the
park, to which she reacts instantly: “Walk! Not bloody likely” (P.78). The violation
here is due to Eliza’s use of a taboo word in so decent a situation.
These instances of violation of social manners cause
some of the characters in Pygmalion to reconsider their conception of social
Pickering: ... Ive been away in India for
several years; and manners have changed so much that I sometimes dont know whether I’m at a respectable dinner-table or in
Clara Hill: It’s all a matter of habit. Theres no
right or wrong in it. Nobody means anything by it (P.79).
Manners, therefore, are in constant
change with habits, and there is no use judging them as good or bad, right or
wrong. Such a deduction is drawing nearer to Higgins’s motto in the play,
which forms the final definition of social manners. He tells Eliza in Act
“The great secret, Eliza, is
not having bad or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but
having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were
in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good
as another” (P.126).
By unifying social
manners and considering them as reality, the relationship between manners and
class status is already dissolved. Yet, the issue of manners is continued at
the level of social titles and the care for appearance and behaviour like a
lady or a gentleman. This leads to a perusal of the concept of “lady” as a
social title, in Pygmalion.
The concept of lady:
In Act Two, Mrs. Pearce introduces Eliza to
Higgins as “quite a common girl... Very common indeed” (P.36). Mrs. Pearce
very clearly judges common girls, as opposed to ladies, in terms of clothes,
speech and manners. Eliza agrees to this conception after her transformation
in Act Five:
“It was from you [Pickering] that I learnt really nice manners; and
that is what makes one a lady, isnt it?” (P.121)
Then, Eliza believes in the conventional
interpretation of “lady”, which stand for excelling in social manners. Yet,
she comes back to tell Pickering:
“The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she
behaves, but how she is treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor
Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I
knew I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and
always will” (P.122).
Here, Eliza shifts from the belief that a
lady equals her excellence at performing social manners to the belief that a
lady depends on the consideration which the others owe to her. This is a
positive turning-point in Eliza’s attitude towards the issue of “lady”, as a
On defending himself before Eliza’s accusation
of his ill-treatment of her as a lady, Higgins insists on the fact that he
treats duchess and flower- girl alike: “one soul is as good as an other” (P.126), which is –as Martin Meisel observes- a radical attack on the very concept of
“lady”, on the social and economic structure it presupposes, and is the
dialectical destination of the play (50).
By introducing a common girl
to the upper-class society as a lady, Higgins violates the conventional
distinction between a lady and a flower girl. Hence, Eliza the lady speaks
like a lady and uses taboo words: “bloody”; comes from the lower classes:
“the gutter”; loves a low, common, foolish, young man: Freddy Hill; goes out
to work for her living: techer of phonetics.
Such a violation aims at abolishing the signs of class distinctions
perpetuated by the concept of “lady” or “gentleman”. Hence, the importance of
looking at people as they are (51), without any social connotation to load
them with. The relationship between man and woman is included here, and
* Gender relationship:
In Act Two, Doolittle comes to sell his daughter for the sake of “boozing”.
He even tries to convince Higgins to by Eliza from him: “I can see youre one of the straight sort, Governor. Well, whats a five-pound note to you? And whats
Eliza to me?” (P.57). Eliza is as cheap to Doolittle as five-pound note is to
Higgins. Such a comparison clearly reveals the status of woman under the
patriarchal, hierarchical and capitalist society. Doolittle goes as far as to
advise Pickering to marry Eliza:
“Take my advice, Governor –marry Eliza while she is young and dont know no better.
If you dont youll sorry
for it after. If you do, she’ll be sorry for it after; but better her than
you, because youre a man, and she is only a woman
and dont know to be happy anyhow” (P.60).
expressing his vision that woman is inferior to man and, accordingly, her
feelings and rights are unimportant. He even tells Higgins: “If you want
Eliza’s mind improved, Governor, you do it yourself with a strap” (P.62). The
inferiority of woman here is reinforced with the Nietzscheistic
logic –the logic of the strap. Doolittle protests that he likes a little
“ginger” in his life. For Doolittle, “ginger” to his mind is the privilege of
beating his female paramours and changing them at will (52).
As for the relationship between Higgins and Eliza, it
supplies another model of gender relationship in the play. It is a
relationship between exploiter and exploited.
Higgins takes Eliza, tames her and teaches her proper English pronunciation
just in order to win his bet for him and show his talent to the world. To
achieve his goal, Higgins acts with the girl as if she were an object or a
slave, careless of her emotions and her future. Eliza wins him his bet,
fetches him his slippers... Yet, in reward, he abuses and insults her,
calling her “Monkey Brand” (P.41) “infamous creature” (P.104). “heartless guttersnipe” (P.105), “unfortunate animal”
The struggle between male and female is
highlighted in the play, with male characters like Doolittle and Pickering
siding with Higgins; and female characters like Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Higgins
siding with Eliza. Accordingly, while Doolittle advises Higgins to wallop
Eliza in teaching her, and while Pickering supports Higgins financially in
order to prove his genius by transforming Eliza into a duchess, the females
in the persons of Mrs. Pearce and Mrs. Higgins reproach Pickering and Higgins
for playing with Eliza’s life. Mrs. Pearce tells Higgins: “... You cant take a girl up like that as
if you were picking up a pebble on the beach” (P.42). She continues:
“Mr. Higgins, I want to know on what terms the girl is to be here...
And what is to become of her when you have finished your teaching? You must
look ahead a little” (P.44).
Mrs. Pearce is urging
Higgins to treat Eliza as a human being, as an equal. Similarly, Mrs. Higgins
wants Higgins to tell her what will happen to Eliza after her education
because Higgins is teaching Eliza “the manners and habits that disqualify a
fine lady from earning her own living without giving her a fine lady’s income”
(P.84). Mrs. Higgins even shows her contempt of Henry and Pickering in their
faces: “You have no more sense, either of you, than two children” (P.113).
Yet, the sex-antagonism is better revealed when Higgins and Pickering leaves
her flat by the end of Act Three with Mrs. Higgins shouting: “Oh, men! men!! men!!!” (P.84).
Before all these gender conflicts, Eliza finally
throws slippers at her “master” as a revolt against Higgins’s ill-treatment
of her as well as against the patriarchal society which submits Eliza to male
authority, deprives her of her rights and wastes her potential (53). She
refuses the gender distinctions deepened in society. These distinctions are
shown in Pygmalion to be invalid. Hence, Freddy, as a man, is shown to be
incompetent and good-for-nothing (54). Even Eliza is shown to be more
practical and hard-working. She will marry Ferddy
and work for him; “Freddy loves me: that makes him king enough for me. I dont want him to work: he wasnt
brought up to it as I was. I’ll go and be a teacher” (P.131). She even says:
“Perhaps I could make something of him” (P.129), just like Higgins made a
lady of her.
In this way, man and woman are no longer judged by
their gender distinctions but as human beings. Throughout the play, Eliza
struggles to show Higgins that she is a human being, that she has feelings,
and that she needs kindness. She tells Higgins:
“I want a little kindness... I’m not dirt under your feet” (P.130).
“I got my feelings same as anyone else” (P.45).
The equality between man and woman advocated here is
based on real humanity, not on conventions, since it ignores the gender
differences between the two sexes. It is only through “equality” that the
talents and energies of all people, of both sexes, are utilized (55). Yet,
conventional morality remains a wall before evolution and “equality” , with its ready-made laws and good-evil complications:
a reinforcement of the dominant values.
Morality in Pygmalion goes hand-in-hand
with the other issues concerned with Shaw’s social reform: speech, manners,
etc. Morality is shown to affect characters very much. Thus, in the portico,
in the opening scene, Eliza is afraid of the supposed police informer to
charge her with prostitution (56) because she is coaxing money out of a
gentleman. Accordingly, she reacts hysterically to save her honour: “I’m a respectable girl: so help me, I never
spoke to him except to ask him to buy a flower off me” (PP.19-20).
Similarly, when Eliza goes to Higgins’ laboratory in Act One, she is determined
not to be cheated. She is suspicious of being drugged and seduced, as the
impetuous professor bullies and tempts her (57). She keeps saying: “I’m a
good girl, I am” in order to show Higgins that she is not a call-girl, but a
respectable one who comes on business: to have lessons and pay for them: “...
and if my money’s not good enough I can go else-where” (P.38). This is to
show that Eliza has honourable purposes, and that
she cannot yield to -what she suspects-
Higgins’s sexual desire.
Alfred Doolittle first appears in Wimpole Street in the
hypocritical role of the virtuous, with the
intention to blackmail the two have taken up Eliza (58). He menaces Higgins:
“I want my daughter: that’s what I want, see” (P.53). By this menace,
Doolittle probably thinks that allying with morality will put him in a
position of power in order to dictate his orders on Higgins. Yet, ironically,
Higgins allows him to take his daughter away. Doolittle, shocked in his goal,
tries to convince Higgins, entreating him, that he has not come to take away
“All I ask is my right as a father; and youre
the last man alive to expect me to let her go for nothing; for I can see youre one of the straight sort, Governor. Well, whats a five-pound note to you? And whats
Eliza to me?” (P.57).
Doolittle even continues that if
he had known Higgins’s intentions are not honourable , he would have
asked Higgins for fifty pounds.
After selling his daughter, Doolittle
does not only throw morality aside, but –what is more- he argues for
consideration as an undeserving poor man done out of his natural right to
happiness by the narrow-minded prejudices of middle-class morality (60).
Doolittle even clearly claims that he is victim of the morality that
classifies people into deserving and undeserving according to the moral value
of their deeds, and punishes Doolittle as undeserving because of his
“immoral” behaviour. Doolittle refuses such a
“My need is as great as the most deserving widow’s... I dont need less than a deserving man: I need more. I dont eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more”
Doolittle even goes as far
as to strike at the foundation on which the dominant morality is based;
“Higgins: ... Doolittle:
either youre an honest man or a rogue.
Doolittle [tolerantly]: A little of both, Henry, like the rest of us; a
little of both” (P.117).
By being honest
and dishonest at the same time, Doolittle suggests the alternative morality
and shatters away the conventional duality (good/evil) on
which ready-made moral judgements are based. According to Shaw, morals
cannot be simplified into right and wrong deeds, but considered as one
reality/entity (60). Thus, even in Shaw’s problem plays, there is no conflict
between good and evil, and the villain is as conscientious as the hero; there
are even no heroes or villains at all (61), they are only human beings.
By dividing morals into good and
evil, hypocrits are given the life-time chance to
enter public life pretending dignity and virtue in order to win the
consideration of the masses and exploit them better (62). It is for this
reason that Doolittle wonders: “What is middle-class morality? Just an excuse
for never giving me anything” (P.58). Yet, through the process of evolution,
Shaw predicts that the morality based on virtue and evil will be repudiated
by a morality based on real humanity (63). It is only through such humanist
morality that all mankind –men and women, rich and poor- are considered as
equal human being without the interference of any moral prejudice to praise
or despise them, for people are what they are.
Pygmalion is a play about Class
Society and a class culture shown to be omnipresent in social values, human
relationships, language... The Shavian alternative has been to detach those
values and habits from their class connotations as a preliminary step towards
more individual freedom and wider prospects of social equality. In Pygmalion,
such a claim is echoed by the American millionaire Ezra D. Wannafeller’s desire to found “Moral Reform Societies”
all over the World and to have a “Universal” language invented for him by
Higgins, “author of Higgins’s Universal Alphabet” (P.28). Therefore, reform
for “equality” has not been only Shaw’s goal but also his characters’.
It has in been made clear in this present study
that Shaw’s religion is Evolution,a
will to which the individual is a mere device to promote its own process of
development. Yet, with that individual rigidly succumbing under class
restrictions, his talents and capacities die down unprofitted.
Only social equality can emancipate the individual and set free his energies
to contribute in furthering the process of Evolution: his first and ultimate
role in existence.
It is through Evolution that Equality is achieved:
Equality takes its shape through “gradualness”. Evolution and Equality, in
this study,are two faces
of just one Shavian conception of Existence: improving the human race.
1- Samuel C. Chew and Richard D. Altick,
“The Nineteenth Century and After”, In: Literary History of England, ed.
Albert C. Baugh (London: Routledge and kegan Paul,
Vol. IV, 1980), P.1522.
2- Maurice Valency, Op. Cit., P.316.
3- Ibid., P.317.
4- Louis Crompton, Shaw the dramatist: A study of the Intellectual
Background of the Major Plays (London, George Allen and Unwin Ltd., 1971),
5- Richard Hornby, Op. Cit., P.122.
6- Ibid., P.126.
7- Ibid., P.125.
8- Maurice Valency, Op. Cit., P.324.
9- Martin Meisel, Op. Cit., P.174.
11- Maurice Valency, Op. Cit., P.315.
13- George Bernard Shaw, “How to Become a Man of Genius”, P.346.
15- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., P.142.
19- Ibid., P.143.
20- Ibid., P.142.
21- Ibid., P.143.
23- The Underlines used in this research are my own.
24- All the quotes from the play are taken from Shaw’s Pygmalion
(London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1987).
25- Margery Morgan, Op. Cit., P.60.
26- Samuel C. Chew,
Op. Cit., P.1522.
27- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., P.146.
28- Maurice Valency, Op. Cit., P.314.
29- Ibid., P.318.
30- Ibid., P.324.
32- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., P.147.
35- Maurice Valency, Op. Cit., P.324.
37- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., P.146.
38-C. E. M. Joad, Op. Cit., P.200.
39- Maurice Valency, Op. Cit., P.324.
42- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., P.146.
43- Maurice Valency,
Op. Cit., P.313.
44- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., PP.141-142.
45- Ibid., P.142.
46- Ibid., P.144.
49- Richard Hornby, Op. Cit., P.125.
50- Martin Meisel, Op. Cit., P.176.
51- Bernard Shaw, “How to Become a Man of Genius”, P.341.
52- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., PP.145-146.
53- Harriet Kriegel, Op. Cit., PP.XXX-XXXI
54- Margery Morgan, Op. Cit., P.72.
55- Harriet Kriegel, Op. Cit., PP.XXX-XXXI
56- Louis Crompton, Op. Cit., PP.142.
57- Ibid., P.143.
58- Ibid., P.145.
60- Bernard Shaw, “How to Become a Man of Genius”, P.346.
61- Martin Meisel, Op. Cit., P.89.
62- Bernard Shaw, “How to Become a Man of Genius”, P.344.
63- Ibid., P.346
Shaw, George Bernard. Man & Superman.
Shaw, George Bernard.Plays Pleasant.
Shaw, George Bernard. Plays Unpleasant.
Shaw, George Bernard.Major Barbara
Shaw, George Bernard.Back To Methusellah
Shaw, George Bernard.Androcles & The
Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion.
THE PROMETHEAN PASSION FOR
IMPROVING THE RACE
(A STUDY OF THE PROBLEM OF EQUALITY
IN SHAW'S MASTER-PIECE, "PYGMALION" )
ECHOES OF THE EXPERIENCE
(FIVE MOROCCAN SHORT-STORY
WRITERS REVEALING THEIR FIRST STEPS TOWARDS LITERATURE)
THE POWER OF DREAM IN MODERN MOROCCAN SHORT STORY