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?Comedy should subvert but Pygmalion just confirms the conformist message that class is fixed and shouldn’t be fluid. Discuss. In Pygmalion, the time era is Edwardian, and class can be seen as both fixed and fluid. We can see that Shaw’s intentions are clear, underlying the play, Shaw’s message is clear that the class system is flawed, and that Eliza’s uprising proves this through her strong, subversive attitude. An example of Shaw suggesting that class is fluid in Pygmalion is through Doolittle’s interaction with Higgins.
When Doolittle is first introduced at the beginning of the play he is conveyed as a lordly character: ‘’Morning, Governor. [He sits down magisterially] I come about a very serious matter, Governor. ’’ We see that Shaw attempts to instantly show Doolittle as well-mannered, this conveys to us that he respects Higgins, and that no conflict is present between different classes. The fact that Doolittle sits down ‘’magisterially’’ hints that Doolittle has a lot of self-respect and pride. Shaw represents Doolittle in a confident way and on a socially balanced presence with Higgins.
Doolittle seems full of himself, and isn’t conveyed as unhappy with his life. Higgins, a well off, middle class man; allows Doolittle, a lower class man, to enter into his house. Both Middle class and Lower Class manage to speak and interact with each other civilly. Due to this, it can be seen that class is fluid in Pygmalion as Doolittle retains manners, within his pleasure for life in the lower class, whilst in Higgin’s house. This is subversive because Shaw is trying to convey that a class system is not entirely present here than it should be.
Because Shaw is a Marxist, he believes in no class system and therefore it can be suggested here that class is fluid. Shaw tries to show that if people in the era did this, everyone would get along better. However, we see class barriers present in Pygmalion. We can see that Doolittle is of lower class than Higgins as he addresses him as ‘’governor’’, this shows that Doolittle knows where he stands in society. We can also see that Doolittle is lower class due to his phonetics; ‘’I come about a very serious matter’’ instead of saying ‘Came’ Doolittle says ‘Come’ which reflects his dialect in a lower class way.
This puts Doolittle in a strong light of Lower Class typicality, which reflects his weak position in society. This suggests class is fixed, and it could be seen that Shaw is reminding us of reality. Also, at the beginning of the play, Eliza is conveyed as a typical lower class flower girl who initially conforms to the idea that class is fixed. ‘’Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? ’’ Eliza’s dialect is very strong and typical of lower class, like her Father, Doolittle. We see that at the beginning of Pygmalion, Eliza is introduced for the first time to Freddy and his family; ‘’How do you know that my son’s name is Freddy, pray? ’ Freddy’s mother asks Eliza this as she fears that her son has an association with the lower class, here Shaw shows the conformation of Eliza being fixed in Lower class, and how the upper class treat her and view her because of her dialect. This is typical in the society of the Edwardian era as the lower class interacting with higher classes was frowned upon, which suggests class is fixed. But Shaw is against such class distinctions. Despite Eliza’s lower class dialect, her attitude is defensive and self –righteous. Eliza manages to defend herself against the upper classes.
Throughout the play, Shaw shows that her strong will takes her into the heart of higher class. We know that Shaw conveys Eliza as self-righteous as she takes herself to Higgins house, she knows what she wants and she wants to be happy. However this also suggests that she is unhappy with lower class life, she wants to change. ‘’I wish you’d left me where you found me’’ Further on throughout the play, we see Doolittle change and move up to middle class by receiving a large amount of money; ‘’Look at it. Look at this hat. Look at this coat. ’ Doolittle gets paid a considerable amount for the way he speaks. The only reason he moves up to the middle class is due to a result of a comedic misunderstanding, as he hasn’t fully earned the money. This proves that Shaw is trying to convey through Doolittle that class is easily manipulated through wealth, and that wealth can make class fluid. However, Doolittle rejects the conventions of middle class; he acts like he did in lower class, his attitude to middle class life is the only thing that has changed. Doolittle’s attitude towards life is bleak; ‘’Ruined me.
Destroyed my happiness. Tied me up and delivered me into the hands of middle class morality. ’’ The metaphor: ‘’Tied me up’’ signifies that he cannot escape from this, it is symbolism of his move to ‘’middle class morality’’. Doolittle is not happy with his life anymore as he states moving to middle class has ‘’Destroyed his happiness’’. He was content with life with just enough money to get him by; this suggests that not only is class fluid, but a person living in lower class can be more content with life than Middle class. Shaw strongly suggests his opinion that lass is fluid and that living in lower class can be enjoyed. This is showing a form of subversion in the novel, that a lower class man has easily moved into middle class simply due to a mistake in judgement, providing Doolittle with wealth. Shaw is against the class system and tries to prove how corrupt it is by emphasising this in a comedic form. Further towards the play, Eliza transforms from a lower class flower girl into a middle class ‘’Princess’’. We see that at the ball, she enters the presence of Neppomuck, an interpreter who speaks 32 languages.
Shaw conveys Eliza as upper class at the scene of the ball, she speaks with perfect English dialect; ‘’she terrified me by the way she said How d’ye do’’ (–Pg. 86) Eliza is seen by Neppomuck at the ball as ‘’Hungarian. And of royal blood’’ which puts Eliza in a position of upper class. This questions the conformist message of fixed class, Shaw is suggesting that class means nothing, his opinion is that class should be fluid, even on such a scale as this, from lower-class flower girl ‘’In the gutter’’ to a ‘’Princess’’ and of ‘’royal blood’’.
Shaw shows that Eliza has transformed, due to phonetics and her change in dialect, he also shows that evidently class is fluid and not fixed. This is a major subversion in Pygmalion; it shows that the play is not conforming to the idea that class is fixed, but is a subversive comedy in terms of class. However, we see again that more class barriers are present in Pygmalion, Higgins resorts to mocking Eliza towards the end of the play; ‘’a heartless guttersnipe’’ (Pg-98. Higgins being middle class from the start of the play resorts to mocking Eliza as if her Lower class attributes still remain. This confirms the conformist message that class is fixed and shouldn’t be fluid; it is as if Shaw is trying to convey Eliza in her previous ways, similar to her at the start of the play. Eliza is unable to retain herself as middle class; ‘’You’d better leave a note for Mrs Pearce about the coffee; for she won’t be told by me’’ this shows she has resorted back to her lower class ways, that Shaw is trying to show that Pygmalion confirms the conformist message.
However, in another light, it could be seen that Shaw is trying to convey a subversive message, that Eliza has found her strength and has stood up towards Higgins. ‘’I’m sorry. I’m only a common ignorant girl’’ (Pg-97) Eliza is sarcastic towards Higgins, Shaw is trying to express his opinion that class should be fluid and not fixed, and that Eliza’s dialect is not the only thing that’s changed, but her subversive attitude has become stronger as she stands up for herself towards Higgins.
Eliza wishes she had never become Middle class she wished Higgins would of just ‘’left her in the gutter’’ as Eliza is not content with life anymore. This even further proves that class is fluid and not fixed, and that Shaw’s message is conveyed through Eliza’s transformation. Overall, I feel that Class is fluid in Pygmalion. There are the small parts where class barriers are present, but these are overcome and class barriers are easily broken by the fluidity of class in relation to Doolittle and Eliza.
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Shaw expresses his opinion that the class system is flawed through both Eliza and Doolittle; his message is shown clearly through their change from lower class to middle class. Shaw also conveys that they are both unhappy with the change, and wish they could go back to lower class life; ‘’Ruined me. Destroyed my happiness. Tied me up and delivered me into the hands of middle class morality. ’’ Doolittle doesn’t enjoy middle class life and Shaw purposely shows this as a sign in his message that class can be fluid, and in Pygmalion, is fluid.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Class in Pygmalion
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Throughout his career, George Bernard Shaw agitated for the reform of the vagaries of English spelling and pronunciation, but his assertion that Pygmalion was written to impress upon the public the importance of phoneticians is immaterial. Pygmalion, like all of Shaw’s best plays, transcends its author’s didactic intent. The play is performed and read not for Shaw’s pet theories but for the laughter its plot and characters provoke.
The play is a modern adaptation of the Pygmalion myth (although some have claimed that it is a plagiarism of Tobias Smollett’s The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle, 1751), in which the sculptor-king Pygmalion falls in love with Galatea, a creature of his own making, a statue that the goddess Aphrodite, pitying him, brings to life. The Pygmalion of Shaw’s play turns up as Henry Higgins, a teacher of English speech; his Galatea is Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl whom Higgins transforms into a seeming English lady by teaching her to speak cultivated English. In the process of transforming a poor, uneducated girl into a lady, Higgins irrevocably changes a human life. By lifting Eliza above her own class and providing her with no more than the appurtenances of another, Higgins makes her unfit for both. On this change and Higgins’s stubborn refusal to accept its reality and its consequences, Shaw builds his play.
From the beginning, when Higgins first observes her dialectal monstrosities, Eliza is characterized as a proud, stubborn girl, though educated only by the circumstances of her poverty and gutter environment. She has the courage to ask Higgins to make good his boast that he can pass her off as a duchess within a matter of months, and she calls on him and offers to pay him for elocution lessons that will enable her to work as a saleswoman in a flower shop. Like all the proud, she is also sensitive, and she tries to break off the interview when Higgins persists in treating her as his social inferior.
Higgins can best be understood in contrast to Colonel Pickering, his foil, who finances the transformation. As a fellow phonetician, Pickering approves of the project as a scientific experiment, but as a gentleman and a sensitive human being, he sympathizes with Eliza. It is Higgins’s uproariously tragic flaw that he, like all of Shaw’s heroes, is not a gentleman. He is brilliant and cultured, but he lacks manners and refuses to learn or even affect any, believing himself to be superior to the conventions and civilities of polite society and preferring to treat everyone with bluntness and candor. He is, or so he thinks until Eliza leaves him, a self-sufficient man. When he discovers that she has made herself an indispensable part of his life, he goes to her and, in one of the most remarkable courtship scenes in the history of the theater, pleads with her to live with Pickering and himself as three dedicated bachelors. At the end of the play, he is confident that she will accept his unorthodox proposition, even when she bids him good-bye forever.
As a matter of fact, Shaw himself was never able to convince anyone that Eliza and Higgins did not marry and live happily ever after. The first producer of the play, Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, insisted on leaving the impression that the two were reconciled in the end as lovers, and this tradition has persisted. Enraged as always by any liberties taken with his work, Shaw wrote an essay that he attached to the play as a sequel in which he denounces sentimental interpretations of Pygmalion. He concedes that Pygmalion is a romance in that its heroine undergoes an almost miraculous change, but he argues that the logic of the characterization does not permit a conventional happy ending. Higgins is, after all, a god and Eliza only his creation; an abyss separates them. Furthermore, Shaw contends, their personalities, backgrounds, and philosophies are irreconcilable. Higgins is an inveterate bachelor and likely to remain so because he will never find a woman who can meet the standards he has set for ideal womanhood—those set by his mother. Eliza, on the other hand, being young and pretty, can always find a husband whose demands on a woman would not be impossible to meet. Therefore, Shaw insists, Eliza marries Freddy Eynsford Hill, a penniless but devoted young man who has only an insignificant role in the play. Stubbornly, Shaw does not even permit them the luxury of living happily ever after: They have financial problems that are gradually solved by their opening a flower shop subsidized by Colonel Pickering. Shaw’s Pygmalion is too awe-inspiring for his Galatea ever to presume to love him.
Even with the addition of this unconventional ending to the play, Pygmalion would be highly atypical of Shavian drama were it not for the presence of Alfred Doolittle, Eliza’s father. Through Doolittle, Shaw is able to indulge in economic and social moralizing, an ingredient with which Shaw could not dispense. Like Eliza, Doolittle undergoes a transformation as a result of Higgins’s meddling, a transformation that in his case is, however, unpremeditated. Early in the play, Doolittle fascinates Higgins and Pickering with his successful attempt to capitalize on Eliza’s good fortune. He literally charms Higgins out of five pounds by declaring himself an implacable foe of middle-class morality and insisting that he will use the money for a drunken spree. Delighted with the old scoundrel, Higgins mentions him in jest in a letter to a crackpot American millionaire, who subsequently bequeaths Doolittle a yearly allowance of three thousand pounds if he will lecture on morality. Thus this dustman becomes transformed into a lion of London society, and the reprobate becomes a victim of bourgeois morality. Although he appears only twice in the play, Doolittle is so vigorous and funny that he is almost as memorable a comic character as Higgins.
The play itself is memorable because of its vigor and fun, notwithstanding Shaw’s protestations about its message. It is likely that Shaw insisted so strenuously on the serious intent of the play because he too realized that Pygmalion is his least serious and least didactic play. In 1956, Pygmalion was adapted into the Broadway musical My Fair Lady; the musical, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe, was extremely successful, and several revivals have been produced since that time. A film version of My Fair Lady, starring Audrey Hepburn as Eliza and Rex Harrison as Higgins, was released in 1964.