August 7, 2012
A Character Essay on Eliza: Pygmalion The story of Pygmalion is based on a classical myth, and Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion plays on the complicated relationships in a social setting. Professor Henry Higgins takes Eliza Doolittle to teach her the art of phonetics and to refine her manners. Eliza was, at first a poor flower girl, but by the end of the play, is transformed so much, she is even mistaken for a duchess. It is obvious throughout the play that Eliza is changing in many aspects; the most obvious being her diction, for this is what the play is based on.
In Act 1, Eliza is simply a poor flower girl who just happens to meet the phonetics professors, who decide to take her under their wings, to transform her as part of a bet between friends. Eliza is a very poorly spoken girl in Act 1, and Shaw uses the method of her pronunciation to spell the words she speaks. She also appeared very rude in front of the public. She said to The Mother “Ow, eez ya san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y’dooty”¦’ It was not right for a young girl to question a mother’s ability to look after her children. She said to Higgins “You ought to be stuffed with nails’ this was a particularly rude thing to say to a stranger. She also interrupted people-particularly Higgins “Let him mind his own business and leave a poor girl-’ Females were still seen as the lesser sex, and a poor girl should not have interrupted a well-respected man. Eliza was far inferior to Higgins, in almost every way possible, this means Eliza should show respect for Higgins, and certainly not be rude to him.
Eliza clearly had no money, and used any method possible to earn some “ this included begging. She had mastered the art of cajoling people to give her money. Her methods included making people pity her “buy a flower off a poor girl’ and “buy a flower, kind gentleman. I’m short for my lodging.’ She flatters people who she thinks might buy some flowers with a little persuasion, and she is very persistent. If people make excuses, such as “I really haven’t any change’ she replies with “I can give you change for a tanner, kind lady’ Eliza also pestered people, if they said they had no money, she managed to flatter them, and persuade them enough, to give them what they had. Eliza seems to be very good at her job, and this makes me feel she has been doing it for a long time, and has mastered the art perfectly.
Eliza was demeaned throughout the opening scene, in the way that people thought less of her simply because she was a lower class citizen. She actually had a very light spirited personality, but because she was a “beggar’ people would not get to know her. Eliza had a very low self-esteem, she tried to persuade even herself that “I’m a good girl, I am’.
Eliza had a very poor background, she received no form of education, and so would probably have been a flower girl since a young age, in order to earn the money to survive. She was treated with no dignity whatsoever, and I think this made her feel insecure. She jumped to the wrong conclusion when she realised her words were being written down, and immediately began defending herself. This showed her insecurity. “I aint done nothing wrong by speaking to the gentleman.’ She shows her confidence, and her argumentative side when she believes a policeman is watching her, but she is unable to construct her arguments in a concise and comprehendable way. She simply repeats over and over that she “aint done nothing wrong’ and she pleads with people to help her. In fact, this makes her seem more and more guilty. She does appear brave here though, for she believes she is speaking to a policeman, she is trying to defend herself. “Oh, sir, don’t let him lay down a charge”¦’ Most people would not stand up to a policeman, for they are usually intimidated by them, but Eliza is determined that she will not be punished.
Eliza seems to be concerned more with practicalities than with her sanitation, for we later learn she has never had a bath, and she wears the same underwear every day, and does not even remove them at night. This shows us that her living conditions must have been very poor, and it shows her naÃ¯vety. She also appears incredibly naÃ¯ve, when she attempts to impress Freddy, by getting into a taxi, and asking to go to “Bucknam Pellis’ The sad truth is, there is no way Freddy would have believed she had business in Buckingham Palace, and so she was simply making a mockery of herself.
Shaw’s intentions are clear here, he wants to make Eliza an everyday, poor and badly spoken flower girl, at the lowest end of the class system. This is in order for her transformation to take its full effect. A change from the worst, to being mistaken for a duchess, is much more impressive than from a lady, to a duchess. He uses Eliza, with her simple lifestyle, to put across his views “ that a person with unattractive speech, can be transformed, with only the right teaching. Shaw uses Higgins to take on this role. Shaw actually believed that “the English have no respect for their language”¦they spell it so abominably that no man can teach himself what it sounds like’ He used Pygmalion, and the other plays he wrote, to spell words how they were pronounced, not how the English language said they should be spelt.
We can see in Act 2 the beginnings of her transformation, but in many ways, she remains the same.
She shows her determination once again, she wants to go to Higgins, and be transformed into “a lady in a flower shop.’ Higgins demeaned her a lot just the previous day, but she shows her determination and bravery, by returning to his house, and seeking his help. It was very possible that he would have dismissed her.
Eliza also shows her naÃ¯vety again “ she attempts to impress Higgins and be more respected when she asks Mrs Pearce “Did you tell im I come in a taxi?’ This was purely a spur of the moment “ she wished to spend the little extra money she had gained the day before. Had she thought about it, she may have realised it was not such a “rich thing’ to do. It was a lame attempt to prove to Higgins that she could be a rich girl.
The audience receive a hint of an unfortunate background, when Higgins says “Somebody is going to touch you with a broomstick”¦’ and Eliza replies “One would think you was my father. This implies that her father beat her, and although whipping was seen as acceptable in the early C20th, this appears a hint of something worse.
Eliza continues showing her insecurity, when she repeatedly says “I’m a good girl, I am.’ She still seems to be trying to convince herself more than anyone else.
Once again, Eliza shows her naÃ¯vety when she appears not to realise that she cannot speak like a lady, but dress and act like a flower girl. She says “I didn’t want no clothes”¦’ She also says “I don’t want to talk grammar, I want to talk like a lady in a flower shop.’ Eliza already seems to realise that she prefers Pickering’s company to Higgins’s; she does not even trust Higgins when he offers Eliza some chocolates. “How do I know what might be in them? Ive heard of girls being drugged by the like of you.’ Eliza tries very hard throughout this act to impress Higgins and Pickering enough for them to help her, and it is said that Eliza “Sits down again with an attempt at dignity’ This is probably quite amusing for the audience, as I doubt she managed it very well! Eliza shows her innocence when she says about baths “I know a woman that did it every Saturday night; and she dies of it.’ This shows that she has little common knowledge. She also demeans herself, she says “whood marry me?’ and it is said that Eliza is very surprised to be taken upstairs, and not to the scullery. This again proves she had primitive living conditions, and was uncared for before she met Higgins. She says about her room “It’s too good for the likes of me.’ This illustrates her insecurity once again.
Eliza is still a disobedient character, refusing to bath, interrupting Higgins again, but she does eventually have the bath, and is amazed that she is still alive! She seems to act more like a lady after the bath, when she is wearing clean, new clothes. She wants to be addressed as “Miss Doolittle’ for the first time here, for she feels more like a lady, and wants to be treated like one.
Eliza shows her innocence again, when she was utterly disgusted by having to stand nude in front of a mirror, for I don’t think she had ever seen her whole body before.
Eliza is beginning to feel a little more confident by the end of Act 2 and she has changed considerably. Her wealth has increased to a certain degree “ she owns some very fine clothes, and she looks just like a lady. She would clearly pass as a lady once her speech improved. Her personality still leaves little to be desired, but the audience is lead to believe that this Act is the beginning of a radical change. We can see that Eliza’s appearance has changed considerably when her own father does not recognise her. It seems that Eliza is finally gaining respect from others now, which to me sounds ludicrous, she has only changed her dress sense, and people show utmost respect. I think this shows the ludicrousness of the class system.
Shaw uses this Act to show how cut off from the middle class lower class people were. He uses the example of the bath to illustrate this; Eliza did not even know that you could bath your whole body at once. He shows her appalling background, when he uses Doolittle’s character to “sell’ Eliza to Higgins for five pounds. The money was said to be used for drink. I think Shaw has strong feelings about the lower class having a drink problem, for earlier in the play, Higgins says that he will not give Eliza any money for she will only spend it on alcohol. This is two references to people of a lower class resorting to alcohol if given the chance, in an attempt to mask their deprivation.
We can see in Act 3, that Eliza has changed quite dramatically. She appears to have finished her phonetics lessons, and the audience sees that she has been a very quick learner. Eliza is under a lot of pressure here, to change her diction as quickly as possible, to win Higgins his bet. Eliza also proved her ability to learn quickly, by starting to play the piano. It is said that she progressed with her musical ability at an amazing rate.
Eliza showed her ability to be obedient at the party which she attends, and at the “at home.’ At each, she stuck to the topics of conversation she was told to, these being of “the weather and of everybody’s health’ The way Eliza speaks now is slightly over-exaggerated, she pronounces every word perfectly, and almost appears to be making too much effort. When asked “will it rain, do you think?’ Eliza replies with “The shallow depression in the west of these islands”¦’ Eliza sometimes lapsed into her old dialect, but with her new accent, so she sounded a little peculiar, for example “it done her in.’ This actually went down well, and it was thought that she was using the latest slang! By the time Eliza goes to the party, it is clear that she has been totally transformed. She has done everything asked of her, and her speech is now perfect, with no flaws at all. Eliza has shown her dedication throughout “ she knew how much work was required, and with Higgins, she managed to accomplish her aim “ to speak like a lady in a flower shop. This showed her natural intelligence and capability. Pickering said of her “that girl is a genius.’ Her sheer transformation is clearly evident at this party, she walks past people, and they stand and stare in awe of her. The tension for the audience builds up, when it is thought that Nepommuck has found Eliza out “ but in fact, her speech and appearance are so perfect, that she is mistaken for a Hungarian duchess. The audience is led to believe that Eliza has changed totally here, but before long, glimpses of the old Eliza return “ she becomes insecure again, when she believes she has lost the bet, and she is very apologetic. This lapse demeans her greatly. She seems not to have realised that everyone thought so highly of her, the whole hall were amazed by her air of dignity.
Shaw wants us to think that Eliza has changed so dramatically here, from the lower class, to perhaps even the upper class, for she was mistaken for an upper class citizen. He has shown that anyone can be changed, if they have the right opportunities, diction and appearance. He also stressed his views in a huge way, when the character of Clara said “Such bloody nonsense’ Never before had “bloody’ been said on stage, and the fact that Shaw chose a female to say it, makes me think he did not see women as the weaker sex. Shaw demonstrates favourably how important phonetics is, to a well-respected person. He shows that anyone can be respected, if they speak like any other well-respected individual.
In Act 4, it seems that Eliza is finally becoming fed up with the whole business which surrounds her. She is fed up with being Higgins’ “busy-body’ and she seems to seek independence. She has had little recognition for all of her hard work, and after the party, she seems to need to let it all out. Ever since Eliza arrived at Higgins’ house, she has been collecting his slippers, and morning papers, and doing little errands for him. After the party, Higgins cannot find his slippers, and Eliza fetches them for him. Higgins assumes they just appeared, and ignores Eliza totally. This makes Eliza still feel inferior to Higgins, when in fact, she is probably an equal to him “ they are both of the same class now. Higgins has received all of the praise for transforming Eliza, but the audience can see how much work she actually put in. When Pickering and Higgins were discussing the party, and made no reference to Eliza, but just of Higgins winning his bet, Eliza “flinches violently; but they take no notice of her”¦’ Eliza tries her hardest to hold her rage, but still, Higgins and Pickering are discussing their own hard work and how much of a “bore’ it all was. Eliza finally releases her rage, and is able to construct a much better argument with Higgins than in the opening Act. It seems she has been perfectly, sickeningly obedient throughout her time with Higgins, but finally can take no more. She says to Higgins “You wouldn’t care if I was dead. I’m nothing to you-not so much as them slippers’ Eliza appears to be very depressed “I wish I was dead’ Eliza shows her desperation and upset when she asks “What am I fit for?”¦What am I to do?’ Eliza finally realises that she has to find herself, she has to be independent to succeed, Higgins has modelled her, and now she has to model herself. She meets Freddy at exactly the right time, and sees that he is her route of escape from Higgins. She was “hungry for comfort’ and used Freddy as a scapegoat. She does seem genuinely happy though, for she says “theres nobody in the world now but you and me”¦’ Eliza, for the first time shows a romantic side to herself, she seems destined to be with Freddy, and she thinks “it’d be lovely to wander about for ever.’ Shaw really brings the character of Eliza to life here, she has come unto her own, and we see her real rage at the last six months, how cut off she has been from the world. He uses Freddy to make a “happy ending’ and the audience are pleased that Eliza has got away from the mean character of Higgins. Shaw seems to show that everyone has their own character, and that you can only do as you are told for so long, and soon, you have to be independent. He uses Eliza and Freddy to express this feeling.
In Act five, we see the more “independent’ Eliza, who says what she wants to, and not what she is told to. The fact that she returns from her disappearance, shows that she does have affection for both Higgins and Pickering, and it seems that she returned so that they could know what they had done wrong. Eliza wanted to still be friends with them “ this shows her forgiving side. Eliza uses her intelligence when she plays mind games with Higgins, she talks only to Pickering, and purposely walks straight past Higgins. “”¦Taking no apparent notice of Higgins and working away deftly’ She continues with the mind games by repeating phrases which Higgins has said to her. e.g. “I’m only a squashed cabbage leaf’ these mind games show the bravery she now has in front of Higgins. She is definitely an equal to him here, quite different to the inferiority which the audience saw in the opening Act. Her expectations have clearly risen now, she expects to be treated like a lady, and she thanks Pickering for being so respectful towards her throughout. “Your calling me Miss Doolittle”¦That was the beginning of self-respect for me.’ And she also says “the difference between a flower girl and a lady is not how she behaves, but how she is treated’ this shows her sincere thanks in an intelligent manner, and still, playing mind games with Higgins. She shows herself to be perhaps inferior to Higgins when she says to Pickering “I would like you to call me Eliza from now on”¦and I should like Higgins to call me Miss Doolittle’ This shows that Higgins should show respect for her, whether she used to be inferior to him or not. The audience learn that even Eliza believes she could never resume her old speech, and her old status when she says “I don’t believe I could utter one of the old sounds if I tried’ This shows that she can now realise her achievements, and so is self-complimenting, something which she felt unable to do earlier in the play. Quite amusingly, we see that Eliza’s standards have risen, “youre not going to let yourself marry that low common woman!’ Eliza appears to have forgotten that she was “low and common’ not so long ago”¦ We see Eliza’s intelligence once again, when she says “I don’t care how you treat me”¦But I wont be passed over’ This shows that she is more educated, her argument is more structured once again, and we see Eliza as a more self-confident character, with high morals. In the opening Act, I think it is fair to say that Eliza had no morals, but here, she has convinced the audience that she is a “new woman!’ Eliza shows her persistent streak, which we had not seen since Act 1, when she continues arguing with Higgins, she wants him to hear everything she has to say, and when he tries to change the subject, Eliza persists, and returns to what she wants to say. When Eliza says “I want only to be natural’ we see that she has changed enormously. During the opening Act, Eliza would have given anything to become a lady in a flower shop, and she was willing to change her total appearance and diction in order to do this. Now she is saying she wants to be natural, a contradiction made by a wiser brain. She can now deduce that being a lady in a flower shop is not everything, and that she can lead a happier life if married to Freddy. Surprisingly, we see a glimpse of Eliza’s insecurity once again, when she says to Higgins “I know I’m a common ignorant girl”¦’ This is not actually true any more, and so shows her insecurity, as she still sees herself as the poor flower girl “ common and ignorant.
Eliza shows that she is seeking independence, when she decides that she will marry Freddy, rather than living with her father, or staying with Higgins. Marrying Freddy is her only opportunity for independence, and she chooses this option in order to gain some. Eliza shows the extent of her mind games when she tells Higgins that she will turn her back on him”¦she does this purely to annoy him, and she will teach others exactly what she was taught, only better. This will take the work away from him, leaving Eliza with self-satisfaction for what he has done to her. She really shows her true colours here, she becomes spiteful towards Higgins, and admits, that she finally knows how to treat Higgins, even Higgins describes her as a “tower of strength’ and he admits that Eliza is now an equal to him, when he suggests that “you and I and Pickering will be three old bachelors together instead of only two men and a silly flower girl.’ Eliza is now much more able to control herself, when Mrs Higgins comes into the room “Eliza instantly becomes cool and elegant’ whereas in her first arguments, she found it hard to stop her temper from getting out of control. This is a quality which a lady would have been expected to have, but was a quality which she had learnt to do herself, and would not have been taught to do so by Higgins. Eliza also shows her true organisational skills. The audience have been given hints that she organised everything for Higgins, but when she says to Higgins “Number eights are too small for you”¦You have three new ties that you have forgotten in the drawer”¦Colonel Pickering prefers double Gloucester to Stilton”¦I telephoned Mrs Pearce this morning”¦’ We realise that her organisational skills were a very important thing to Higgins, and so an important aspect within the play. I think that Eliza realised that she had to find her own identity to progress. Higgins had modelled her, but to be herself she had to find her true identity. She did this by becoming rebellious towards Higgins. She realised being rebellious was a way to be more independent. Through this rebellion, she also found more confidence. In the opening Act, Eliza was crestfallen when told off by Higgins, but she managed to reverse the situation, and be the one “firing the gun.’ When told off, all Eliza seemed to say was “A-a-a-a-ah-ow-ooh!’ but here, she is firmly in control of the situation. This again shows her increased self-control and intelligence.
Shaw finishes the play with the audience very happy. The nature of the play make us (the audience) take sides with Eliza, and not Higgins, and it is pleasing when Eliza feels able to stand up to Higgins, and give him some of his own medicine. Shaw finally shows that someone can be totally transformed when given the correct opportunities. Before Act 5, we believed Eliza to only have really changed in appearance, speech and intelligence. We can see throughout her argument with Higgins that her personality has changed a great deal also. She has structured her arguments in a convincing manner, and the fact that she is rebelling shows a personality change. I believe, from reading this play that Shaw did not believe in the class systems, for he has shown here how relatively easy it was for Eliza to change classes “ it only took her six to twelve months. In reality, it was quite a lot harder than this, and you probably would not be respected within a higher class than you were brought up in. Shaw would most likely have been in the middle class, but it seems that he would not mind too much if someone transferred classes, as long as they were convincing enough. We can learn many morals and views belonging to Shaw by reading Pygmalion, which I think was a main reason for him writing this play.
It is easy to see that Eliza has changed in many ways throughout Pygmalion. Shaw has made Eliza a totally different character by the end of the play, perhaps so much of a change that it would be unrealistic. But are all of these changes superficial? Her three main changes are her diction, appearance and intelligence. She would have had natural intelligence before, but it has simply been put into action here, enabling her to use her thoughts in a constructive way. So, has she only changed her diction and appearance? If so, these are both superficial, they are both on the outside and are not linked to her personality. It is true to say that little personality traits have been picked up, such as much improved manners, and improved confidence, but much of her personality has remained the same, such as her insecurity and persistence. I think that mainly, she has changed her personality as a natural progression from a flower girl, to a middle class lady, and that none of the changes are huge. Just by looking at her, you would be able to see a massive change. She would be well dressed, with fine jewellery, make-up and a lady-like, fashionable hairstyle. By speaking to her, you would hear her perfect pronunciation of each and every word, but would you notice her intelligence? The truth is, she would be expected to have intelligence to some extent, and so little effort would be put into establishing whether or not she had some. I think the main traits of a lady are perfect (or as near to) speech, and fashionable, modern appearance. These were the two main changes which Eliza made, and so I think it is fair to say that her main changes were superficial. If you link all of her changes into one, you would say she had transformed into a lady. This is a superficial change, but within it comes all of the small personality changes, such as the manners and the ability to control oneself.
I think that Eliza has changed in many different ways, but they are mostly on the outside, and I think that she is still the same “Eliza’ as she was at Covent Garden. She has simply been treated like a lady, looks like a lady, and has changed in a few little ways within herself.
I think that whether you believe she has really changed rests upon the whether or not you believe it is possible for someone to change classes. Its lies on whether you believe a lower class citizen who becomes rich is a rich lower class citizen, or whether he is a middle class citizen, for the latter would make you believe Eliza has changed enormously, but the first would influence you into thinking that she was still the same. It also depends on what “change’ is, the degree to which you mean, so it is hard to say whether or not she has changed at all, or whether she has simply progressed from a flower girl to a lady, and has picked up different personality traits along the way.