Personal Response: Pygmalion

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion portrays male chauvinism mainly through Henry Higgins. He is privileged, egoistic, and insensitive towards other people, especially towards women and those from a lower class. He is irresponsible like a child in many ways, yet he can easily determine Eliza’s future.

At the start of the play, Higgins is portrayed as a note-taker. He observes the crowd as subjects of study, not as real, living people. He is unable to show compassion towards those from a lower class and mocks Eliza of her accent when she is worried about being arrested. When Higgins brought Eliza into the lessons, he never once considered what would happen to Eliza after the challenge. Even when Mrs. Pearce warned him about what would happen to Eliza, he confessed that he couldn’t care less. To him, giving Eliza lessons is just a  “fun challenge” to prove his ability and satisfy his ego, but for Eliza, it dramatically changes her life and her identity. It must have been horrible to be given a new identity in a “better life,” but only temporarily so that she would need to fall back into the gutter again. It is incredibly cruel. If Eliza never attended Higgins’s lessons and was always a flower girl, she wouldn’t need to ever worry about “middle-class morality” or be concerned with Higgin’s patriarchy.

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion falls in love with his statue. Although he “talked to it with words of love and brought to it the kind of gifts that are thought to please girls,” (The myth of Pygmalion) a statue is still an object. Eliza as a flower girl is just a piece of ivory. As Higgins taught her upper-class dialect and transformed her into a lady, she is carved into a statue.  But there is no Aphrodite to “bring the statue to life.” From the way I interpret it, when she returned to Higgins at the end, she “transformed” from a statue into a human, or rather, a woman. Although the play makes us wonder about issues regarding the status of women, it is curious why Shaw still decides to use this ending. From the film, I got the impression that Higgins fears Eliza’s parting more because he cannot let go of his masterpiece creation. But I wonder why Eliza feels the need to stay with him. One way to interpret it is that Eliza, although claiming that she now stands on her own, still feels the need for security and status that she would receive from Higgins. Perhaps she has feelings for him as well. As we see from The Merchant of Venice, love, or affection is often accompanied by the desire for power. While Higgins needs Eliza to stay with him to satisfy his ego, Eliza also needs Higgins to secure her social status, and keep her identity as an upper-class lady.

No matter if this ending was a happy one, or how it could have ended differently, I still think the cruellest thing is how Higgins took Eliza in without ever thinking about what would happen to her afterwards. Although the film portrays this casually and even comedically, it is still very difficult to watch. But I enjoyed how these heavy problems are revealed from its light-hearted appearances. The film was entertaining to watch, yet we can unpack many things from it.

 

 

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