Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

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Act 3 Summary

It is just before evening and a lady, who is over sixty, is writing in her fashionably and comfortably decorated room. This room is in direct contrast in furnishings and design to her son's, Professor Higgins. The son bursts into the room, much to his mother's anger. She has asked Henry not to come on her at-home days when she entertains other ladies because he offends her visitors.

Henry broaches the subject of Liza with his mother, and Mrs. Higgins hopes it is finally a love interest for her son, especially a young love interest. She admonishes him for not falling in love with anyone under forty-five, but he explains that he only finds women like his mother lovable. Henry has brought Liza to his mother's gathering to try out Liza's new language skills with her friends. The visitors arrive and there is no time for Henry to escape without an introduction to Mrs. Eynsford Hill and her daughter.

Henry is rather abrupt with his mother's guests when Colonel Pickering enters. Introductions are made, and Mrs. Eynsford Hill's son joins the group. It seems that this is the Freddy from the first act who was sent by the same mother and daughter to secure a cab for them on that rainy night. Higgins shares with the family that he recognizes them but cannot place them.

Henry tries to engage in small talk and then he and Miss Eynsford Hill share that they really wished people to speak what they really think. Higgins, however, knows better and tells the guests that 'we're all savages, more or less.'" Higgins shares that he believes that people do not know enough of life and the arts to discuss them properly. His mother warns him about his manners, and introduces Liza.

Looking stunning and speaking articulately, Liza makes her way to Mrs. Higgins, Pickering and the rest, as introductions are made. It is while the elegant and impressive Liza makes her way around the room that Mrs. Eynsford Hill recognizes something in Liza's eyes, and Henry remembers where he has seen his mother's guests before. Henry shares that it was in the rain at Covent Garden that he saw the family, and finds it ironic that they should be his first trial for Liza.

Mrs. Higgins moves the conversation along with talk of the weather. It quickly becomes a forum for Liza to tell the story of her aunt who was '"done in,'" a phrase with which the Eynsford Hills are unfamiliar. Liza claims that those around her aunt killed her to get her hat, a hat that should have come to Liza. Liza also tells the ladies and gentlemen of refinement that her father poured gin down this aunt's throat to get her over the flu, and it worked. Mrs. Eynsford Hill sympathizes with Liza over having a drinking father.

Liza assures the family that the drink did not really hurt her father; in fact, it made him easier to live with. Liza philosophizes that drink takes the sting out of a man's conscience, so he is easier to be around if he has been drinking. Through all this dialogue, Liza slips in and out of dialectic expressions. Professor Higgins sloughs it off as "'the new small talk,'" and this beautiful young woman charms Freddy, in particular.

Before she can say too much more, Higgins gives a sign for Liza to leave. In her departing words, she uses the word "bloody," a vulgar expression at that time. The other guests still attribute it to the new talk, and Mrs. Eynsford Hill tells her daughter she hopes Clara, the daughter, will not start using such terms. Mrs. Eynsford Hill looks to Pickering for support but he pleads ignorance since he has been in India so long. Clara finds the new language wonderfully fresh and "'quite innocent.'"

After that generational disagreement, Clara and her mother prepare to leave to attend three more at-homes. Pickering encourages Clara to use this new language heard from Eliza as they visit others. Clara tries out her "bloody" new word on Higgins as he encourages her.

After they leave, Higgins asks his mother how Liza did, and Mrs. Higgins tells her son that his pupil cannot pass in society. She believes that living with and learning from her son is not an ideal environment for Liza. Pickering agrees with Mrs. Higgins that her son's language is abominable. Mrs. Higgins wants to know specifically what the relationship is between her son and Liza, implying something Higgins either wants to deny or does not comprehend.

Henry tells his mother that he has worked with the girl daily, and she is around now to find his things and remind him of appointments, taking some of the work off Mrs. Pearce. The two men praise Liza's sharpness and abilities, yet Mrs. Higgins tells both men that, "'You certainly area pretty pair of babies, playing with your live doll.'" She does not believe her son and his friend have acknowledged the gravity of the situation: what is to become of Liza when she is done. They assure her they will find Liza work as they prepare to leave, discussing their next trial for Liza and amusement for them. This infuriates Mrs. Higgins who cannot focus on her writing even after they leave.

More time passes and another test for Liza is about to happen. Eliza and her two gentlemen exit a cab in grand style and mount the steps to the Embassy in London. After hanging up their wraps, the three enter the gathering, and Professor Higgins is approached by a rather pleasant but hairy faced man. It is Nepommuck, a former student of Higgins' who is now an interpreter. Nepommuck sees himself as a great dialectician throughout all of Europe whereas Doolittle focuses on London. Nepommuck is summoned upstairs to use his skills and tells the trio that he is extorting money out of a Greek diplomat to keep quiet about his origin.

Pickering and Doolittle see Nepommuck as the ultimate challenge for their student. They ascend the stairs and join the reception line. The hostess instructs Nepommuck to find out everything he can about Eliza. Meanwhile Eliza circulates, drawing the admiration and stares of many. The hostess approaches the professor, who is disgusted with such a gathering of prudery and snobbery, and asks him about Eliza.

Nepommuck joins the group and exposes Eliza as a fraud. He knows her to be Hungarian, like himself, and of royal blood. He bases this on the fact that only a foreigner learns English so well. Higgins counters that Eliza is "'a London girl out of the gutter and taught to speak by an expert.'" Nepommuck and the hostess reject this.

Eliza joins her two mentors and apologizes for her apparent loss of the bet. It seems everyone is staring at her, and Eliza interprets this to mean that people think she is an oddity. She is in fact that, but as someone exceptional and not an oddity. She is recognized as a beautiful lady. Pickering tells Liza she has won the bet and the three leave to enjoy themselves over dinner somewhere else.

Act 3 Analysis

Mrs. Higgins is in her drawing room when her son arrives. She chastises him because it is her at-home day, a day when ladies receive visitors. This is important to the setting of this play. It must be noted that the social structure of this time, a play completed in 1913, was extremely rigid for those of upper class. Their days were allotted for specific social and political purposes. Ladies often did charitable work and entertained other ladies, usually to solicit funds or to further their husband's careers. Of course, gossip loosened lips and pocketbooks.

When Liza joins Mrs. Higgins and the Eynsford Hills, she charms them all. Her son dismisses Liza's crude topics and awkward expressions as trendy language, shaming those who do not adopt it. Clara Eynsford Hill embraces the new expressions and plans to continue using them. Higgins encourages Clara to spread the word around, so to speak. Clara is very happy to oblige him. Clara wants to be on the cutting edge and willing to buy into anything new for social acceptance. This demonstrates the stupidity and superficiality of this class, a social commentary by Shaw. In this act the use of such sarcasm, as used by Higgins in this case, is a tool of satire.

Another character is introduced in this act, Henry's mother. She apparently knows her son well enough to keep him away from her guests because he is offensive. She is also sensitive enough to know that Liza's well being might be in jeopardy in the hands of her son. She hears Henry and Pickering discuss Liza as an object of amusement and fears for the girl. She creates the metaphor of calling both men babies and Liza a doll, implying a period of play and then discard, a thing of entertainment, a toy. Mrs. Higgins also knows she cannot change her son.

Time passes and another test occurs for Liza. She passes it, even though Higgins acknowledges her background. His hostess and the hairy-faced former pupil of Higgins reject his words. They will not even entertain the thought that such grace and charm can be taught to anyone of a lower class. This again attests to the snobbery of this society using sarcasm.

Act 4 Summary

Eliza, Higgins and Pickering have obviously returned from an evening of social significance. Eliza is dressed elegantly, as are the gentlemen, but "her expression is almost tragic." Pickering admits to being a little drunk, and leaves to get the mail. Higgins inquires as to where his slippers are, and Liza dutifully gets them for him. Higgins does not even notice this act of kindness and suddenly realizes where his slippers are, as if they had been there all along.

As soon as he returns with the mail, Pickering wants to go to bed after this night of garden party, dinner party and opera. It is the final trial for Eliza and the men are gloating. Higgins's response to their victory is "'Thank God it's over!'" The two men discuss how the evening went, and Higgins laments the fact that he had to go through all these social conventions just to test Eliza. Higgins also refers to how tedious and eventually boring this whole project of creating an "'artificial duchess'" became. Liza listens to the men discuss her as a symbol of their greatness.

Pickering goes to bed, and when Higgins approaches the door, Eliza sits in his chair, grabbing the armrests. Higgins again inquires as to his slippers' whereabouts and Liza hurls them at the professor, finally breaking her silence. Higgins returns to Eliza and pulls her up, inquiring as to what is wrong. Eliza tells him that she has won his bet for him, and he calls her a "'presumptuous insect'." Liza tells Higgins she actually would like to kill him for taking her out of the gutter with no future after this bet. Liza shrieks and Higgins physically pushes her back into his chair.

Liza wants to know what is to become of her now. Higgins tells her he does not care, and Liza sees him as a brute for taking her off the streets, transforming her and then throwing her back onto the streets. Higgins asks her if the residents of the house have treated her badly, and Liza tells him they have not. He thinks she is just reacting to a stressful evening, and he believes the end of the bet brings freedom to Liza. Liza recalls Higgins's statement, "'Thank God it's over,'" and feels so used by the professor. It is clear to her that she is just a pawn in this game the gentlemen played.

Liza keeps asking Higgins what is to become of her now. He responds that he believes she will find some employment or marry. He also comments that he had not realized that she would be leaving. He even confesses that she is "attractive" to men who consider marriage. He tells her things will look better in the morning. Liza glares at Higgins.

The professor then proposes that his mother might find someone for Liza, but she immediately responds that she sold flowers on the street not herself, and now that she is a lady, that is all she has left to sell. She wishes he had left her in the gutter. Higgins tells her she does not have to marry; perhaps Pickering will set her up in a florist shop. After all, according to Henry, the Colonel paid for her finery this night, and he is out a lot of pounds. It is now Higgins tells Liza he must get to bed.

As he leaves, Liza reminds him of his slippers and asks who owns the clothing she has acquired during this "'experiment.'" He is clearly angered at this question, but Liza pushes him harder. She tells him she does not want to be accused of taking what is not hers, and Higgins responds she can take the house but not the jewels; they are borrowed. She hands him the jewels she is presently wearing and gives over to him a ring he'd bought for her. Higgins tosses it into the fire and is outraged that she should appear so ungrateful and so hurtful. He loses his temper and turns on her threateningly. Liza tells him not to hit her, and Higgins tells Liza that she has hit him. He has lost his temper and that is a rarity. He is going to bed.

Liza tells the professor to leave his own note for Mrs. Pearce for coffee in the morning, something she was instructed to do earlier in this conversation. Higgins turns to Liza and formally damns Pearce, the coffee, Liza and his own stupidity for having shared his knowledge and feelings on this girl. Now it is time for Liza to gloat, and after he is gone, she retrieves her ring from the ashes.

Eliza goes to a room, a room even more beautiful than before with the addition of some large furniture, and changes her eveningwear into comfortable travel clothes. She takes only what she is wearing and leaves the house, sticking out her tongue at herself in the mirror before exiting her room. Freddie Eynsford Hill watches the second story light and says good night to his darling.

When Liza sees Freddy outside, she asks him what he is doing, and he tells her he is happy just waiting for her. She asks him if he thinks she is a guttersnipe, and Freddy tells her she is "'the loveliest, dearest-.'" Then Freddy smothers Liza in kisses, and she is so eager for acceptance and solace that she responds. A constable hurries them along, and Freddy tells him that they were just engaged. The couple flees.

When Liza and Freddy stop to talk, Liza tells Freddy she was headed for a hole in the river. He questions her and Liza reassures him there is no one else but the two of them. They hug and another constable interrupts them. They run again. Liza tells Freddy they can amble all night through the streets but a taxi brings another option. Freddy has no money but Liza offers to pay, as Pickering always made sure she had ten pounds on her when she left the house.

Act 4 Analysis

Higgins's diction is extremely important in this act for creating tone. He uses such words as "bore," "simple purgatory," and "presumptuous insect" to convey how he feels about Liza and his bet with Pickering. Higgins cannot understand why Liza goes into a tirade. He believes it is just the aftermath of worry. He cannot understand that Liza is afraid she will end up on the street again selling flowers after having tasted such a wonderful way of life. Higgins sees the end of this bet as liberation for Liza; she can now pursue her interests, but Higgins is speaking as a man and a wealthy Londoner. Gender and money contribute to give Higgins endless choices, but Liza is still limited by societal conventions. She has no money and no background. Old money is still revered in London society, and Liza will never have that.

It is in this act at its very end that readers/viewers learn through Higgins's temper and dialogue that he does in fact care for Liza. Liza has verbally pushed him. She finishes her triumphant evening covering all the business aspects of the professor's bet. She not only wants to know what is to become of her, but also what is hers to take. The professor is offended that she should reduce the previous six months to an exchange of clothing. It is at his point that readers/audiences learn that, according to Higgins, he has indeed poured his "'regard and intimacy'" on Eliza.

This concluding scene is important for Liza as well. It shows the return of some of that independent spirit with which she arrived at the professor's six months earlier. It also shows her growth as a character. She is now aware of the complexity of her situation. She has been removed from one social class and placed into another under false pretenses. To which class does she now belong?

Liza's retrieval of the ring also hints at two other aspects of her characterization. She is still the practical flower girl, yet she is also the woman who has possibly been enamored by the professor and/or his lifestyle. She digs into the fading embers for the ring given her by the professor before she leaves his home.

As she exits the house, she runs into the lovesick Freddy. He lingers outside her window, and cannot control his passion when Liza is so forlorn. He wants to take care of her; yet, he cannot even afford to pay the cab fare for the two of them to ride around London all night. This adds another dimension to class structure and expectations. Ironically, Freddy, a young man of supposed substance, cannot afford to pay for a cab, but Liza, a former penniless guttersnipe, pays for the cab. The old order of social structure ran deeply in Victorian England. Freddy has the name and background but his situation appears direr than Liza's does.

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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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