Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw




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Epilogue Analysis


When the play concludes, readers/viewers do not really know Liza's fate. In a retrospective look, Shaw fills readers in on the story's conclusion. Does she return to Wimpole Street, or does she join Freddy? This is resolved in the "Epilogue." The last act would indicate from Higgins's smug look that Liza does return to him, but that is not the outcome. Shaw makes the case that the characterizations he has established for Liza and Henry could not be betrayed by their marriage. Liza is far too independent and, ironically, far too wise to marry Henry. Henry is too much a confirmed old bachelor, too enamored with his mother's image. Liza will take the choice of the man who accepts who she is and respects her.


It is Freddy Liza chooses to marry. He is an interesting character. In Act V, Liza told him of her background as they drove around in the taxi the night she ran away from Higgins. He does not care, yet it is his own social appearance that taxes him. His family could not afford an upper class education for this young man, so he is at a loss for skills to find employment. He keeps up appearances for himself in hopes of impressing perspective employers of upper class. Shaw refers to Freddy's mother as "a last relic of opulence of Largelady Park." She is quickly becoming a vestigial organ in the changing world. She holds fast to what was and not what is; she is associated with the old order and feels impregnable.


It is believed by some that Shaw wrote the part of Liza for a particular woman he was seeing and when she left him, Liza's choice was clear. Whatever the reason, Shaw's explanation of consistency of characterization works stylistically.


It is also interesting stylistically that the playwright put his denouement in an epilogue. After the climax, the confrontation of oppositional forces, who happen to be Liza and the men who use her, the reader/viewer has no sense of completion. The "Epilogue" not only settles any unknown outcome for protagonist and antagonist but also shares outcomes for two secondary characters, Freddy and his sister, Clara.


After so many acts, Clara becomes important in the "Epilogue." She is the one who paves the way for Liza and Freddy in their commercial enterprise. Mrs. Eynsford Hill might not have been as accepting of his son and daughter-in-law as merchants if her daughter had not gone through a tremendous transformation to end up in a furniture shop. Clara starts the play as an arrogant child living off the reputation of an era gone and a family name long impoverished. In fact, it is in the final words of this epilogue that Shaw informs his readers that the name of status, Eynsford Hill, is not the Freddy's christened name at all; it is, in fact, Freddy Challoner.


When Clara tries to catch a man of wealth, she keeps up appearances of something she is not. This brings to the forefront another of Shaw's themes, appearance vs. reality. Liza is someone she is not; her father is someone at the play's end he is not; and Clara and her brother have both posed as people of another social class of which they are no longer a part.


For as much as romantics want Liza with Higgins, this is impossible for Shaw. He found the common romantic solution, as shared in the beginning of the 'Epilogue," trite. In addition, he would not compromise the individuals of Higgins and Liza in a union doomed to fail. In comparing Liza and Higgins to Galatea and Pygmalion, Shaw sums up their relationship perfectly in saying that the "relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable." Thank you, Mr. Shaw, for making literature real, and not selling out to any literary period's need for romanticism.


Characters


Clara


See Miss Clara Eynsford Hill


Doolittle


See Alfred Doolittle


Alfred Doolittle


Alfred is Liza's father, whom Shaw describes as "an elderly but vigorous dustman. ... He has well marked and rather interesting features, and seems equally free from fear or conscience. He has a remarkably expressive voice, the result of a habit of giving vent to his feelings without reserve." Doolittle describes himself as the "undeserving poor," who need just as much as the deserving but never get anything because of the disapproval of middle-class morality. Nevertheless, he is a skilled moocher who is capable of finessing loans from the most miserly of people. He is miserable when he comes into money during the course of the play, however, because people then come with hopes of borrowing money.


Eliza Doolittle


A cockney flower girl of around 18 or 20 years of age, Eliza is streetwise and energetic. She is not educated by traditional standards, but she is intelligent and a quick learner. As she presents herself in her "shoddy coat" at Higgins's laboratory, Shaw describes the "pathos of this deplorable figure, with its innocent vanity and consequential air." She learns a genteel accent from Higgins and, washed and dressed exquisitely, passes in society for a Duchess. In this transformed state, she is shown to be capable of inspiring awe in the observer. While she wins Higgins's wager for him, she is shocked to find him lose interest in her once the experiment is complete; she cannot believe that he's given no thought to her future well-being. Pickering, by having been polite to her from the very beginning, provides a contrast, from which Liza is able to realize that "the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated." She learns from Higgins's behavior an even deeper truth, that social graces and class are not the true measure of a person's worth.


Miss Doolittle


See Eliza Doolittle


Freddy


See Frederick Eynsford Hill


Henry Higgins


Henry Higgins is an expert in phonetics and the author of "Higgins's Universal Alphabet." Shaw describes him as "a robust, vital, appetizing sort of man of forty or thereabouts... .He is of the energetic, scientific type, heartily, even violently interested in everything that can be studied as a scientific subject, and careless about himself and other people, including their feelings-----His manner varies from genial bullying... to stormy petulance... but he is so entirely frank and void of malice that he remains likeable even in his least reasonable moments." In his book Shaw: The Plays, Desmond MacCarthy observed that "Higgins is called a professor of phonetics, but he is really an artist_that is the interesting thing about him, and his character is a study of the creative temperament."


For many, this temperament is a difficult one. His housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, observes of Higgins that "when you get what you called interested in people's accents, you never think of what may happen to them or you." Certainly, Higgins gives no thought to Liza's future after his experiment, and when he gradually loses interest in it, he seems, at least from her perspective, to have disposed of her as well. He is shaken by the independence Liza demonstrates and thus by the end of the play is able to show a kind of respect to her. It is on such terms and presented in such a way, however, that a romantic ending between himself and Liza is never really feasible.


Mrs. Higgins


Henry's mother, a generous and gracious woman. She is frequently exasperated by her son's lack of manners and completely sympathizes with Liza when the girl leaves Higgins and takes shelter with her. She is perceptive and intelligent, and capable of putting Henry in his place. It is indicative of Mrs. Higgins's character that after the conflict between her son and Liza, both characters choose to come to her for guidance.


Frederick Eynsford Hill


Freddy is an upper-class young man of around 20, somewhat weak although eager and good-natured. Proper and upstanding, he is infatuated with Liza and thoroughly devoted to her both before and after she takes shelter with him in an all-night cab after leaving Higgins. Liza claims to be going back to him at the end of the play, an idea which Higgins finds preposterous. Freddy does not have the money to support them both (and from Liza's perspective seems unfit for difficult work), which prompts her idea to earn a living by teaching phonetics.


Miss Clara Eynsford Hill


A pampered socialite of around 20, she is somewhat gullible and easily disgusted. Shaw writes that she "has acquired a gay air of being very much at home in society; the bravado of genteel poverty." Her social position is not secured, however, and this anxiety drives much of her behavior.


Mrs. Eynsford Hill


The middle-aged mother of Freddy and Clara, whom Shaw describes as "well-bred, quiet" and having "the habitual anxiety of straitened means." She is acutely aware of social decorum and highly invested in finding proper spouses for her two children.


Liza


See Eliza Doolittle


Nepommuck


Higgins's first pupil and later his dupe, a Hungarian of around 30. The mustachioed interpreter, according to Higgins, "can learn a language in a fortnight_knows dozens of them. A sure mark of a fool. As a phonetician, no good whatever." He is completely fooled by Liza's performance as a lady of high society and declares that she must be a European duchess.


Mrs. Pearce


Higgins's middle-class housekeeper. Very practical, she can be severe and is not afraid of reproaching Higgins for his lack of social graces. She is conscious of proper behavior and of her position, and quite proud. She is taken aback by the seeming impropriety of Liza coming into the Higgins household but quickly develops a bond with the girl, often defending her from Higgins.


Pick


See Colonel Pickering


Pickering


See Colonel Pickering


Colonel Pickering


A phonetics expert like Higgins, this "elderly gentleman of the amiable military type," meets the latter in a rainstorm at the St. Paul's Church. The "author of Spoken Sanskrit," Pickering excels in the Indian dialects because of his experience in the British colonies there. Courteous and generous, as well as practical and sensible, he never views Liza as just a flower girl and treats her with the respect duealady of society. "I assure you," he responds to a challenge by Mrs, Higgins, "we take Eliza very seriously." Open-hearted, he finds it easy to sympathize with others and, decidedly unlike Higgins, is conscience-stricken when he fears he's hurt Liza.


Themes


Appearances and Reality


Pygmalion examines this theme primarily through the character of Liza, and the issue of personal identity (as perceived by oneself or by others). Social roles in the Victorian era were viewed as natural and largely fixed: there was perceived to be something inherently, fundamentally unique about a noble versus an unskilled laborer and vice versa. Liza's ability to fool society about her "real" identity raises questions about appearances. The importance of appearance and reality to the theme of Pygmalion is suggested by Liza's famous observation: "You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated."


Beauty


In Pygmalion, Shaw interrogates beauty as a subjective value. One's perception of beauty in another person is shown to be a highly complex matter, dependent on a large number of (not always aesthetic) factors. Liza, it could be argued, is the same person from the beginning of the play to the end, but while she is virtually invisible to Freddy as a Cockney-speaking flower merchant, he Is totally captivated by what he perceives as her beauty and grace when she is presented to him as a lady of society.


Change and Transformation


The transformation of Liza is, of course, central to the plot and theme of Pygmalion. The importance at first appears to rest in the power Higgins expresses by achieving this transformation. "But you have no idea," he says, "how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and change her into a quite different human being by creating a new speech for her. It's filling up the deepest gulf that separates class from class and soul from soul." As the play unfolds, however, the focus shifts so that the effects of the change upon Liza become central. The truly important transformation Liza goes through is not the adoption of refined speech and manners but the learning of independence and a sense of inner self-worth that allows her to leave Higgins.


Identity


The indeterminacy of appearance and reality in Pygmalion reveals the significant examination of identity in the play. Shaw investigates conflicts between differing perceptions of identity and depicts the end result of Higgins's experiment as a crisis of identity for Liza. Liza's transformation is glorious but painful, as it leaves her displaced between her former social identity and a new one, which she has no income or other resources to support. Not clearly belonging to a particular class, Liza no longer knows who she is.


Language and Meaning


In an age of growing standardization of what was known as "the Queen's English," Pygmalion points to a much wider range of varieties of spoken English. Shaw believed characteristics of social identity such as one's refinement of speech were completely subjective ones, as his play suggests. While Shaw himself hated poor speech and the varieties of dialect and vocabulary could present obstructions to conveying meaning, nevertheless the play suggests that the real richness of the English language is in the variety of individuals who speak it. As for the dialect or vocabulary of any one English variety, such as Cockney, its social value is determined in Pygmalion completely by the context in which it is assessed. While Liza's choice of words as a Cockney flower merchant would be thought as absurd as her accent, they are later perceived by the mannered Eynsford Hill family to be the latest trend, when they are thought to emanate from a person of noble breeding.


Sex Roles


Sex and gender have a great deal to do with the dynamics between Liza and Higgins, including the sexual tension between them that many audience members would have liked to see fulfilled through a romantic union between them. In Liza's difficult case, what are defined as her options are clearly a limited subset of options available to a woman. As Mrs. Higgins observes, after the conclusion of the experiment Liza will have no income, only "the manners and habits that disqualify a fine lady from earning her own living." To this problem Higgins can only awkwardly suggest marriage to a rich man as a solution. Liza makes an astute observation about Higgins's suggestion, focusing on the limited options available to a woman: "I sold flowers, I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me I'm not fit to sell anything else."


Ubermensch ("Superman")


Shaw's belief in the Life Force and the possibility of human evolution on an individual or social level led him to believe also in the possibility of the Superman, a realized individual living to the fullest extent of his or her capacity. (The naming of the concept is credited to the influential German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, 1844-1900). Shaw addresses the topic explicitly in his play Man and Superman and in many other works, but he also approaches it in Pygmalion. Higgins, for example, represents the height of scientific achievement in his field, though he may be too flawed as an individual to continue evolving towards a superhuman level. Liza, proving herself capable of one type of transformation, also makes an important step towards self-awareness and self-realization, which for Shaw is the beginning of almost endless possibilities for personal development.

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