Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

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Act 2 Summary

It is 11:00 on the next day in Higgins's laboratory at his home. In one corner are file cabinets and a table with several instruments used for his work with speech. This includes an image of the vocal organs. A very comfortable chair and another chair flank the fireplace. A clock sits on the mantelpiece and a phonograph table with two chairs is nearby. A grand piano with its bench graces another part of this room but remnants of a previous meal sit on its keyboard. Pickering sits at the table, investigating some of Higgins's paraphernalia. Higgins is nearby.

In the morning light, Higgins presents himself as a healthy, attractive man of perhaps forty. He appears wealthy and professional. His focus is on his work, never on people and their feelings. He can be unintentionally rude and abusive in his rather excited pursuit of knowledge. Shaw compares him to "a very impetuous baby."

Pickering has just listened to Higgins's one hundred and thirty vowel sounds, and Pickering laments that he has only identified twenty-four. Higgins's housekeeper Mrs. Pearce enters and tells her employer that a "common girl" is asking to see him. Mrs. Pearce thinks the professor will want the low classed young woman to speak into one of his recording devices. Higgins thinks this will be a wonderful way to model his research on vowel sounds for Pickering.

The somewhat cleaned-up flower girl from the previous evening enters the laboratory, and Higgins is disappointed she is his guest as he already has recorded her. It is apparent that he has little use for women other than what they can do for him. Higgins refers to her as "'baggage,'" and threatens to throw her out. The flower girl counters with the fact that she is there to pay for speech lessons. Mrs. Pearce finds the girl unreasonable as she belittles the fact that the girl arrived in a cab and berates the girl for being unable to afford lessons from such a man as the professor. The host and housekeeper repeatedly order the flower girl to sit down, and it is only after the conciliatory tone of Pickering that she does so.

When the flower girl tells her name to be Liza Doolittle, the gentlemen recite a poem about the various nicknames to which her name lends itself. Liza tells them not to be silly and Pearce reprimands her for speaking to a gentleman like that. Liza responds that he should speak to her respectfully too. Liza offers the professor about a shilling for her lessons, and he does the computation to decipher that that is an enormous percentage of her income, making this one of the most lucrative offers he has received. When the professor compares the amounts to what millionaires pay, Liza panics that her money will be taken from her, and Higgins threatens her after Pearce yells at her. Higgins offers the frightened and crying Liza a handkerchief, and instructs her on its use, contrary to the use of her sleeve. Pearce belittles Liza's appreciation for the professor's lesson and tries to take away the handkerchief, but Liza will not give it up.

Pickering has been listening to Liza's proposal and now makes a proposition to Higgins himself. He will pay for all the expenses, including lessons, for Liza's makeover if Higgins cannot successfully pass the girl off as upper class at the ambassador's garden party. Pearce tries to discourage her employer, but he finally commits to "'make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe.'" In six months, perhaps as early as three if she is trainable, Higgins promises to be able to take her anywhere and she will be socially acceptable.

Higgins wants to begin immediately, so he orders Pearce to strip the girl down, burn her clothes and clean her up. Liza declares that she is a good girl, feeling quite compromised by the gentleman's words, and Higgins orders Pearce to beat the girl if she resists. Liza wants to run, and Pearce and Pickering question the professor of his right to do this so spontaneously, without even any place for her to stay.

Mrs. Pearce believes Higgins has no right taking this girl in without knowing anything about her. The housekeeper believes no creature is simply to be used, but Higgins eloquently informs her that he is preparing this woman for betterment; she will be prepared for a new way of life in a new socio-economic class. When confronted with family connections, Liza tells them all that she is unmarried, and Higgins promises that she will have many offers of marriage when he is done with her.

Mrs. Pearce tells Liza to return to her family, and Liza tells them all that she is on her own, kicked out by her sixth stepmother. Higgins proposes Pearce adopt Liza, and, disregarding this idea totally, the housekeeper asks specific questions of the professor. She wants to know if Liza is going to be paid and what is to become of her when the experiment is finished. Liza is outraged by the way the housekeeper and Higgins are talking about her, especially when Higgins suggests that any money Liza should receive she would spend on liquor. At this, Liza implores Pickering for his intercession. Pickering tries to convince Higgins of Liza's feelings, but the professor disregards the Colonel's kind words. According to Higgins, Liza has "'not any feelings that we need bother about.'"

Liza has had enough and darts for the door when Higgins grabs a chocolate and baits her with it. She is afraid that there could be a drug in it, and Higgins slices it in half, eats one half and pops the other half into Liza's mouth. He coerces her with the fact that she can have daily rides in taxis and endless chocolates. Mrs. Pearce recognizes what he is doing and chastises him. Higgins does not relent; he throws gold and diamonds into the enticements, and Liza again says, "'I'm a good girl, I am.'"

Higgins reassures Liza that her virtue will remain intact with Pearce's supervision. Higgins paints a beautiful and successful future for his prospective student, and Pickering supports Mrs. Pearce's continual objections. He tells Higgins that Liza must have full understanding of what is about to occur. Higgins again berates the flower girl and responds that she is unable to comprehend what is happening. In an unusual twist of characterization to humility and human commiseration, Higgins shares that none of us fully understand what we are doing.

Higgins explains to Liza his proposal. He will meet all her living needs for the next six months while she stays at his home. In that time, he will teach her how to speak and act beautifully, so much so that at the end of that time, he will take her to Buckingham Palace. If she is then discovered as a fraud, she will be beheaded, but if she is successful, Higgins will help her be established in a position in a lady's shop. Mrs. Pearce feels she should again explain all this to Liza, and takes her upstairs to her new bedroom.

When Liza reaches her new room, she feels unworthy of it and tells Pearce as much. Pearce patiently talks Liza through the modern conveniences in her room, such as a bath unit. Pearce tells Liza to strip down for a bath, and Liza believes she is about to be killed through taking chill. Liza confesses she has never taken a formal bath and has never taken off all her clothes. The housekeeper tries to convince Eliza that she needs to be clean on the inside and outside if she is to be the company of the gentlemen downstairs. After all, Higgins bathes every morning himself, which Liza finds unfathomable.

Liza approaches Mrs. Pearce and the bathtub with much trepidation in her dressing gown, a bathrobe-like article of clothing. Pearce tells her to test the water and shed the gown, but Liza is terrorized with the thought of being naked and freezing. Liza resists and Pearce throws the flower girl into the tub. Mrs. Pearce scrubs and Liza screams.

Downstairs Colonel Pickering and Higgins discuss Liza. The Colonel wants Higgins's assurance that he has no unseemly intentions toward the girl. Higgins assures his guest that he has instructed several beautiful women and they were nothing to him. He is sure he can treat this pupil the same way.

Mrs. Pearce is next seen entering the room where the gentlemen are with Liza's hat, which the housekeeper says must be put in the oven for a while, and tells the professor that Liza does not want the hat destroyed. Higgins agrees to keep it "'as a curiosity.'" Mrs. Pearce then asks Higgins that he watch his language around the girl. Pearce tells Higgins that when he loses something or is agitated, he is prone to use a word "'that began with the same letter as bath'" Higgins, of course, denies such usage, but Pearce brings back that morning's colorful language, and Higgins dismisses his words as poetic demonstrations of alliteration.

The housekeeper continues with her criticism of the professor. She asks that he watch how he dresses at the breakfast table and what he actually uses for a napkin. She further adds that he should watch how he eats. Higgins does not quite see it the way his housekeeper does, but he agrees to be more aware in front of the girl. Pickering enjoys this interchange between Higgins and his housekeeper.

Mrs. Pearce leaves but returns shortly announcing the arrival of a garbage collector, Alfred Doolittle, who claims to be Liza's father. A dirty man dressed in the clothes of his trade enters. After introductions, Higgins offers Liza to her father, telling him to take her away. Higgins accuses Doolittle of sending Liza to his home in hopes of blackmailing the professor. Doolittle assures Higgins that he does not want his daughter back, nor did he come for money. Even Pickering wonders how Doolittle knows his daughter is there, and the father tells them that a boy coming for Liza's luggage informed him. Mrs. Pearce enters again and assures Doolittle that his daughter will be ready for travel as soon as her new clothes arrive. She tries to usher him into the kitchen, but he stops and attempts to discuss Liza once again with Higgins.

It is then that Doolittle offers his daughter to Higgins for five pounds. He makes a good case of having a father's investment paying off. Higgins offers Doolittle ten pounds, but the garbage collector refuses. He assures the men that the money will not be wasted; in fact, it will not be around come Monday and any more than what asked for will ruin Doolittle's chance for happiness. Liza's father perceives money as too controlling, and he will not have his fun ruined.

Pickering, who has been listening the whole time, suggests Doolittle marry the woman with whom he lives, but Alfred tells him that the woman is the hold up, and if you do not marry a woman young, she will never be fit to marry again. A man will pay for her experience and self-assuredness. Alfred commiserates with the men in the room that a woman will never be happy, so it is the man's wellbeing that should be the objective in relationships.

Doolittle starts to exit the room and he encounters a lovely, young woman in a Japanese kimono. He does not recognize her at first, and all the men present exclaim surprise at her attractive appearance. Liza feels uncomfortable and puts her hat on her head with an air of formality and familiarity. Pearce instructs Higgins not to flatter the girl and he agrees. Liza is angered that her father came for money to drink away, and Doolittle responds that the money certainly would not go in a church's collection plate. Pickering moves in between father and daughter as it becomes apparent the father's anger is rising, especially since Liza has already expressed her father's brutality in discipline. Doolittle leaves, threatening his daughter with physical punishment if she does not obey Higgins. The professor asks that Doolittle come to visit his daughter out of obligation and suggests that Higgins's brother, the clergyman, help father and daughter communicate. Doolittle leaves, promising to come in the future.

Liza informs the gentlemen that they will not see her father again since he will not come around a clergyman. Neither Higgins nor Liza wants to see him again. Liza tells Higgins and Pickering that she would like to take a cab to her old neighborhood and stand there for a while. She wants to show up those who once surrounded her. Higgins instructs her that it is snobbery to forget old friends when a station in life changes, but Liza tells her instructor that those friends of old mocked her. She feels no affinity for them. Mrs. Pearce announces the arrival of Liza's new clothes, and the women exit.

The next scene depicts Liza's lessons. Her stomach is out of sorts from the regular and rich meals she now eats, and she is afraid of her agitated, pacing instructor. The Colonel's presence calms the girl. Higgins tells the girl to say the alphabet, but her pronunciation is far from his desired sound. He does not relent. Liza shows some promise but tries to explain to her instructor that she cannot hear the difference he wants her to recreate. Higgins loses his patience with the now crying girl and tells Pickering to appease her with a chocolate. Pickering reassures Liza that Higgins will not drag her around the room. Higgins sends the distraught girl off to Mrs. Pearce, instructing her to practice and return later for another lesson. They repeat this pattern for months until Liza is ready for her first public appearance.

Act 2 Analysis

Pickering is visiting Higgins, and Eliza comes to secure speech lessons from the professor. Considering her an exceptional challenge, Higgins makes a bet with Pickering that he can have Eliza prepared for any social situation in six months. At first, Liza resists, thinking Higgins has questionable intentions, but when he lures her in with sweets, taxis and gems, she is hesitant to leave. Through the dialogue of this scene, readers/viewers learn more of the characterizations of Pickering, Higgins and Liza, and are introduced to Mrs. Pearce.

Pickering continues to be a gentleman in the truest sense in this scene. He serves as a foil to Higgins, who is brutish and insensitive in his dealings with Liza. Liza beseeches Pickering for his intervention with Higgins, and Pickering defends the visiting "lady." Eliza keeps repeating that she is a good girl, and this obviously is important to her. This implies that her virtue is in tact, and this, ironically, makes her a lady, according to the social mores of this time. When Eliza speaks, it is a common dialect, indicating lack of refinement and education. Her speech patterns are strongly contrasted with everyone else in the room, even Mrs. Pearce, a household servant. Mrs. Pearce clearly has been trained to serve someone of fine breeding and wealth. She knows her social status is subservient to Higgins but better than Eliza's is. Her allegiances shift from her employer to Eliza eventually. She is appalled by the audacity of the proposal to take someone in, remake her and then turn her out again.

Liza finally agrees to be led away. Pickering questions Higgins's character, and, in a thoroughly delightful dialogue with Pickering, Higgins asserts that men lose all sense when it comes to women. He further claims that men and women are decidedly different and should not try to cross those lines. Higgins is a confirmed bachelor and apparent misogynist.

It is not too much later that another character is introduced into the play. While Liza is upstairs bathing, her father, Alfred Doolittle, a garbage collector, arrives. He tries to blackmail Higgins for his daughter's honor. Higgins strategically offers Liza back to Alfred, and the men engage in a witty conversation about the poor and their needs. Alfred is a very sensible and intelligent man. He argues his case well, and Higgins entertains the prospect of preparing him for Parliament or pulpit. By joining these two professions after hearing the manipulative words of Doolittle, the playwright suggests the fraud and misrepresentation that often occur in both professions. Doolittle also sees the acquisition of too much money as a threat to his fun. He feels too much money brings a certain responsibility and knowledge with it, and he wants no part of that. He wants only the five pounds he asks in trade for his daughter. Doolittle is witty and sharp, and he is entertaining. He is almost the socio-economic foil of Higgins. Both men are arrogant, sharp, manipulative and self-serving.

When Liza enters the room after her bath, her father barely recognizes her and the gentlemen are spellbound. She spars verbally with her father and readers/viewers find out she was raised "by hand." Her father continues to threaten her physically if she does not obey Higgins. There is no respect for Doolittle from his daughter as he is a garbage collector who does not work in his trade for more money, and there is little respect for Liza from her father as she is a woman.

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Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconThe Project Gutenberg ebook of George Bernard Shaw, by Gilbert K. Chesterton

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconChakats © Bernard Doove/Chakat Goldfur used with permission

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconSallie Bernard* Albert Enayati, B. S., Ch. E., M. S. M. E. Heidi Roger

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconShaw College, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconCompiled and edited by Tony Shaw, Program Chair, Wilshire Conferences, Inc

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconThis report compiled and edited by Tony Shaw, Program Chair, Wilshire Conferences

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconJames P. Chambers1,*, Bernard P. Arulanandam1, Leann L. Matta2, Alex Weis3, and James J. Valdes4

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconGeorge R. Jackson, M. D., Ph. D

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconGeorge R. Jackson, M. D., Ph. D

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw iconGeorge C. Kyriakos Journalism & Society

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