Pygmalion: On Events Creating an Opposite Meaning than is to be Expected

In Pygmalion, what strikes me most is how the events of the play create an opposite ending than what would be expected. Professor Higgins constantly shows a lack of respect towards Elisa Doolittle, therefore giving the notion that by the end of the play, Doolittle would leave Higgins. However, how Doolittle reacts to Higgins at the end of the play is opposite to that, showing that instead the improper behaviour Higgins shows was actually liked by Doolittle.

When talking to Doolittle, Higgins says that she wold be better off living a rougher life and to leave him, “Can’t stand the coldness of my life and the strain, go back to the gutter! […] You find me cold, unfeeling, selfish, don’t you? Marry some sentimental hog…” (1938). Higgins is insensitive when talking to Doolittle, and uses rude language to push his point. He rudely points out to Doolittle that he rescued her from her tough life in the “gutter”. He shows a lack of care and compassion, which would make Doolittle want to leave him.

Higgins has empathy, yet shows it only when he must, and otherwise chooses to follow ethical goals in a rude way. Higgins’ long-term goal is to help Doolittle become confident and independent, and to do so treats her poorly, often getting angry at her. “Take one step…I’ll wring your neck! […] Eliza, I said I’d make a woman of you, and I have. I like you like this” (1938). In reality, Higgins likes Doolittle and wants her around. He acts roughly, for that is how he prefers to talk, and he wanted Elisa to be able to put up with that, and for her to return it too.

Bernard Shaw brings up the question of why Doolittle and Higgins end up liking each other through juxtaposing behaviour with intention and outcome. Shaw does this by characterizing Higgins as a perpetually disrespectful and incosiderate person, and Doolittle as a sensitive person. However, the true intentions of Higgins become clear to Doolittle, and she realizes that he is a person who cares for her. Therefore, by Higgins acting roughly, he meant to toughen her up, not to hurt her.

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