Pygmalion by Shaw George Benard was a provoking play that emphasizes the complexities of human interactions and the interaction between classes. One of the most important lessons Eliza teaches is that if you keep elevating and improving yourself in life, it’s nearly impossible to go back to the way you were. Two things stood out for me in the play: Higgins’s resemblance to Torvald from A Doll’s House and the femininity shown by Shaw among the different social classes.
I had many mixed emotions about the characters in the play, specifically Higgins. Though he was a selfish, arrogant, prideful man, and I didn’t like how he interacted with Eliza, I felt bad for him in the same way that I was left wondering what would happen to Torvald and his kids when Nora just left. Just the way Torvald had provided everything to Nora, he did the same with Eliza. He gave her everything from a house, clothes, and food and made her a beautiful lady accepted into society. However, like Torvald, even after giving her everything, he didn’t give her respect as a person. But instead, he looked at her as if she was his creation and had to reach his perfecting expectations. Higgins did not bother to even take a second to recognize Eliza but rather made her feel like she was no use to anyone. He Higgins tells Mrs. Pearce that Eliza is “no use to anyone but me.” This shows how he views Eliza as a lesser being with no feelings.
Pygmalion is an excellent example of feminist criticism in literature. Male domination over females is apparent throughout the play. Shaw portrayed how being a lady impacted how you were regarded throughout the Victorian era. Women were expected to act in a certain way–the stereotypical lady-like way, where some women have to work, and others don’t. This is evident in the treatment of the flower girl when she interacts with the daughter and mother in act 1. The daughter looked down upon her, and when her mother was giving her money for the ruined flowers, she stated
“Make her give you the change.”
This ill-treatment can be inferred because of the flower girl’s speech and appearance. However, the second time they meet again, they meet Eliza, a beautiful, fair woman who has excellent speech, is listened to and treated nicely.
Shaw demonstrates femininity among the different social classes through many charters who had specific roles and boundaries. He also shows the fixed roles all these women had: Eliza, the poor flower girl; Ms. Pierce, the house help; and Ms. Higgins, an upper-class lady who had a home and raised her family. He shows through three characters that these fixed roles and specific definitions of femininity are artificial. Through the transformed Eliza, there is a new vision of a woman. A woman who is educated, career-minded, and self-reliant.
Altogether, it was an interesting play to read and observe how much appearances in the Victorian time meant and how people were meant to act in their specific social class. Eliza is a woman who is now considered a fair lady and not just a flower girl to bring up her status in society. After declaring her independence to Higgins, she is now free and an independent woman. However, now that her outer appearance has changed, I was left with her question: Is she really better off?