Chloe ZaraskaMr. IozzoENG 1DP17 January 2018Sculpting ElizaIn viewing the play Pygmalion, the audience is expecting a romantic comedy but is disappointed to find out that one does not exist.
The ending surprises the reader as it is untraditional and may be seen to empower women. Near the end of a traditional romantic comedy, there is usually a marriage between the two lead characters. These characters will seem out of sync and almost complete opposites, deeming it impossible for them to be together as a couple.
However, this is not the case in Pygmalion. In this play, the main female character Eliza is a young woman living on the street who is portrayed as weak and lowly. An indication of this is in the description given by Shaw, “She is no doubt as clean as she can afford to be; but compared to the ladies she is very dirty.
Her features are no worse than theirs; but their condition leaves something to be desired; and she needs the services of a dentist” (Shaw 16). Shaw tells the audience she “is not at all an attractive person” (16), but he contradicts himself in a later act when she is presented in different clothes. In her case, outward appearance and uncleanliness destroy any kind of physical appeal for the other people in the play. Once she is cleaned up and ‘presentable’, all the characters are in awe of her stunning transformation. “Eliza enters, sunny, self-possessed, and giving a staggeringly convincing exhibition of ease of manner. …
Pickering is too much taken aback to rise. LIZA. How do you do, professor Higgins? Are you quite well? HIGGINS. choking am i-he can say no more”(120). This is similar to when Cinderella transforms from a homely house girl into a princess. In the end, they have both become beautiful women, suitable for wealthy male characters to marry. Nonetheless, in Shaw’s original ending he purposely does not link Eliza to Higgins through marriage, to disconnect her from a character unsuitable for her, ultimately empowering her as a woman. Shaw is forced to modify and continue his story to include a marriage and Eliza’s occupation in the flower shop, where she is dependent on men.
The question arises, is she truly independent of the male characters in his revised version? This new version would be more in keeping with traditional stories of the romantic comedy genre.Bernard Shaw expresses the romantic comedy structure, only to undermine it through Eliza’s character who achieves her independence by rejecting Higgins at the end of the play. In the beginning acts, it can be seen how Shaw tries to manipulate the reader by pulling key components and ideas from the classic fairytale, Cinderella, and of course, the myth of Pygmalion. In the story of Cinderella, the main character falls in love with the lead male character, Prince Charming, just as other romantic comedies suggest. In Pygmalion, critics surmise that Eliza is destined to be with Higgins, there is proof of this in remakes in the play, such as “My Fair Lady”, written in 1964.
In which the song, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” is sung when Higgins is missing Eliza, followed by the last scene where Eliza shows up in his doorway and they share an intimate talk, indicating that they do end up together, without the play actually showing them doing so. However, this is not at all what happens in Shaw’s original ending. He purposely de-rails from this romantic comedy format, like shown in Cinderella, saying that it is not realistic or right for them to have a romance. Years later he was forced by critics to add a sequel to counteract these alternate endings where Higgins marries Eliza. This conclusion should not be possible because it would contradict her wishes when she states that she does not want to marry Higgins in the fifth act. In the original ending, as it is, Eliza does not marry, and yet is still accepted in her society.
Shaw’s ending was acceptable before the sequel, but he received many complaints and comments from disappointed audiences preferring him to create an ending that would be more in keeping with a romantic comedy. He chooses to do so and includes the requirements of a typical romantic comedy, but in his own, unique form. An example of this is the predicted wedding in the sequel, not only does he give readers two different weddings, but they are not what is expected. He has Eliza marry Freddy, and Mr. Doolittle marry his woman. He still retains some of the values expressed in the original ending, such as Eliza’s desire for economic freedom. When Shaw produces the long explanation of where the characters wind up, it may just bring up more skepticism and questions about it. This makes it more natural for him to have just left the play as is.
The main point he did manage to keep was his theme of women losing their power when connected to men. Eliza’s character is strong enough to break free from what society wants women to do traditionally; to get married to someone above her social class, and to be looked after by their wealth.As a result of Eliza not choosing to marry Higgins she retains her strength and independence as a woman. From the beginning, her objective is to make it on her own without relying on anyone or asking the professors for money or housing. When they offer to give her money she says, “No: I don’t want no gold and no diamonds” (45). Eliza is determined to announce that she does not want to take their handouts. She wants to be independent enough to sell her own flowers in a shop, so she tells Higgins, “I want to be a lady in a flower shop stead of selling at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But they won’t take me unless I can talk more genteel” (38).
Eliza’s ambitions and requests are initially very simple; to speak proper English and become more presentable. When she comes to professor Higgins, Eliza is not looking for a romantic partner. And what makes her character strong is her desire to make it far in life, regardless if she has a husband or not. But she tells him, “I wouldnt marry you if you asked me” (129).
In his original ending, Shaw does not make her dependent on any man, making her free to make own choices. Whether she chooses to marry Higgins, Freddy, or someone completely different does not matter because the story was never meant to describe her romantic encounters, but rather about her realizing her true potential as a self-sufficient woman. “If the theme is that Eliza is now independent, any definite choice of future would only limit her at the end of the play. She’s just realized that she can make it on her own, and has the whole world open to her.
The actual decision she makes can wait until later” (Ross 3), Shaw does not have her marry Higgins, to preserve her freedom. Eliza is the type of girl to stand up to Higgins, despite the fact that he is someone of a higher social class. It does not occur to her that it is socially unaccepted for someone of a lower class, like herself, to associate with someone such as a professor. “I ain’t done nothing wrong by speaking to the gentleman” (Shaw 19). This does not concern Eliza, as she believes all people should be equal. She feels she can talk to whomever, regardless of class. “Liza snatching up the slippers, and hurling them at him one after the other with all her force There are your slippers” (100).
When she is in the lower class, she still believes she has rights. Shaw did not marry Eliza to her teacher to introduce feminism in the play, which would have been a big deal in that time. The female side of the story is not usually represented, making Shaw’s play have a big impact in his depiction of women.Shaw deliberately makes it uncomfortable if Higgins and Eliza were to start a romance. In this play, Higgins is strictly presented to Eliza as a teacher, his purpose is to help young Eliza move up to a higher social class. When Eliza asks why he taught her, he simply replies, “Why, because it was my job” (128), and nothing else. Although he is there to educate her, he does not always seem very eager to take on this role. When he makes remarks about liza such as, “Pickering: shall we ask this baggage to sit down, or shall we throw her out the window?” (38), he is implying that she is as worthless to him as a piece of baggage.
After the Ambassador’s garden party, in the third act, the professors get bored in dealing with Eliza and do not care if the project were to end. Higgins says, “Well, when Ive done with her, we can throw her back into the gutter; and then it will be her own business again; so thats all right.” (44).
In this example, he is quick to try and get rid of her at any chance he can get. Eliza tells Higgins right away, “I wont care for anybody that doesnt care for me” (127), indicating that she will not put up with his actions. He does not treat her like a lady after she asks him to, he completely disregards it and continues to treat her like a flower girl.
“HIGGINS. If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I can’t change my nature; and I don’t intend to change my manners.”(126). He does not care about her or her actual personality, he is just putting up with the challenge of fixing this girl. When Higgins changes Eliza’s behaviour according to his definition, his actions can be related to the myth of Pygmalion. In the myth, the female character is an inanimate object before turning into a woman, but in Shaw’s Pygmalion, he treats her as an inanimate object, and then she becomes a woman.
“They might as well be blocks of wood. I might as well be a block of wood” (50). This suggests that Higgins not only comes to consider his students as objects rather than humans, but there is another analysis of the language he uses; ‘a block of wood’ is like a canvas, it is an artistic term. This proves that he shapes them to change them, and in Eliza’s situation the outcome is that he becomes more of a fatherly figure to her. He even says, “I’ll adopt you as my daughter” (129). There is huge age difference between Eliza and Higgins. Throughout the book he is mentioned as an old bachelor, who is closer in age to her actual father, than to her.
He wants a slave not a lover or a girlfriend. He wants someone just like him, an equal. But Eliza will never be his equal, or anywhere close in his eyes. Eliza is not entirely independent at the end of this play, because she still lives with Higgins, and uses Pickering’s money. She is perceived as a ‘proper’ woman solely because she knows how to act and talk, creating the image of a sophisticated woman. Eliza creates the delusion that she is a high-class woman, but in the sequel, this is proven to be inaccurate in the sequel. Shaw writes that Freddy and Eliza, “could not write out a bill without utterly disgracing the establishment” (145).
He explains that the two of them can not even count, nevermind run a flower shop together. This shows that she has been taught how to act, talk, and look like a high-class lady, but on the inside, she will always follow her old ways. If she continues to use Pickering’s financial aid to run her store, she certainly is not rich. When “Their weekends in the country cost them nothing …
since the colonel and Higgins paid the hotel bills” (147), it is implied that they do not have the money to pay for these trips. If only given the money to take care of herself she could be more of their equals. But, to be fair, there is only so much that Eliza, or a woman in general, could accomplish in this society due to the limited education and opportunities given to women to achieve. Shaw was a modern thinker. He knew that if he made a good play on a controversial topic, people beyond his time could still be studying and learning from it.
He made an impact in his time, being one of few to write with more of the female perspective, and incorporates the reality of these idealistic romances in the romantic comedy format. Although many things have changed from this time period, themes present in the play of Pygmalion can still be applied to today’s society. Women in lower social classes struggle to achieve equality; they can not achieve much simply because of how people in higher classes view them. Or even achieve the same amount of success as their male counterparts. These poor people could have plenty of potential, like Eliza, but just do not know how to rise in their social ranks, and therefore can not move up economically because of lack of education.
Making these people unable to stand up to bad governing or from people in positions of power. In Shaw’s story, he empowers women and makes great educational pieces that anyone could benefit from reading.