Welcome back to the What Are You Reading? Series! If you have no idea what’s going on feel free to take a look at the introductory post. Don’t forget at the end of the post to let me know your own thoughts and interpretations of the book. [Please note that if you haven’t commented before I recommend reading the Commenting Guidelines.]
And today’s book is……. *Drum roll*
Author: George Bernard Shaw
Originally Published: 1913
In Pygmalion, a young flower girl with an almost incomprehensible dialect named Eliza gets invited to live with Professor Higgins (a phonetics expert) and Colonel Pickering (a phonetic hobbyist) for six months after they make a bet with each other. The bet is to see if within six months Professor Higgins can pull Eliza off as a woman of nobility in both speech and etiquette. Six months pass and they are successful, bringing her to his mother, Higgins shows off his almost complete masterpiece, they also meet Freddy who becomes a suitor for Eliza after love at first sight. At the end of the six months, Eliza succeeds more than expected as she is confused for a foreign princess at a party. More concerned about their success than what will happen to Eliza, Higgins and Pickering voice how glad they are that the challenge is over leaving Eliza to feel as if she is really nothing to them. In her anger and frustration she runs away to Mrs. Higgins who takes her in and helps her find sanctuary. Not noticing she is gone until the following day, Higgins and Pickering look for her and find that she is with Mrs. Higgins. After agreeing not to be impolite to her, Eliza finally comes to see them and explains why she left and reluctantly agrees to return home with them.
My First Thoughts
Is it odd that when I hear Eliza talk in the beginning that I hear her speak in a Southern Accent? Probably.
My Final Analysis
For this work I wanted to dive a little deeper into it, mainly for one reason:The many hints at classism. Though it isn’t as obvious during our generation (but still exists) the time period in which this play is set has it much more presently represented. So maybe I should start this part with a definition:
Classism – (noun) Prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class by using dialect, demeanor, slang, and dress as a determiner.
The reason why it struck me first is that it is obviously present at the beginning of the play through the treatment of Eliza when we first meet her on that rainy night. Even though she is just trying to make a living off selling flowers (a much more tame occupation than what was a more “popular” during this time) she is met with accusations and aggression from the people around her, all who have just left another gala or party. Eliza is even met with blatant disgust from Miss Eynsford Hill. More often than not, women of lower class end up having to marry higher in order to be seen as valuable and to give their children a chance to not deal with the prejudice given to whatever class they belonged.
When you continue to read, you see that the way people act around Eliza changes for two reasons. 1) Eliza speaks and acts as if she is from a “higher class” than her own. 2) After her transformation, she is meeting people who did not know her very well before. Watching this change in reaction to her showed me that one of the themes of this story is that language, appearance, and manners change the perception of identity in the eyes of others, but through Eliza’s eyes her perception of identity is lost. Who she was before is gone and now she believes that she is too good to sell flowers on the curbside but is incapable of selling flowers in a shop because she acts more upper class than middle class. Her father has the same issue after coming into some small fortune, Mr. Dolittle becomes apart of the middle class and he is absolutely miserable. Show through quotes like:
I have to live for others and not for myself; that middle class morality. – Mr. Dolittle page 112
The deserving poor might as well be millionares for all the happiness they has. – Mr. Dolittle page 113
With comments like these, Mr. Dolittle shows us that he is miserable going to a higher class than he used to be a part of, mainly for the fact that the higher the class the more social responsibility you have. Instead of doing what makes you happy, you have to “live for others” to provide not only for yourself but for those around you this can be socially and/or financially. On the other hand, Mr. Dolittle is only a part of a higher class through his financial gain. He didn’t have to marry up or be taught to become seen socially as part of the upper classes like Eliza. He was just thrown into it, and with that, his reaction is completely justified.
At the end of the day, all Eliza really wants is to be treated equally and like a lady. To be seen as human by both Higgins and Pickering. Kind of a feminist thought, but women’s fight for equality was in this formative years during this time. But a quote that really struck me with this thought is closer to the end of the play where Eliza is speaking with Pickering and thanking him for the kindness that he had shown her throughout their time together.
The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated. – Eliza Dolittle
She is telling Pickering here that even with her change in speech and dress, it doesn’t matter. As long as she is treated like a lady she will be a lady. It’s how someone is treated not who they are and if you treat all people equally then they are equal. Higgins doesn’t really get that thought. He treats everyone with this sort of indifference that is very off-putting and in turn makes so many people dislike him despite the fact that he belongs to the middle class. Even Pickering admits that people of the upper classes are undeserving of their status because they treat others as if they are beneath them despite the fact that at one point all families were part of the “lower classes”.
Will I read this again? Probably. I did find Eliza’s sass pretty funny. But as a writer, I learned a lot about dialogue and character perception with it, and that perceptions can be wrong.
Well I hoped that you enjoyed this month’s What are You Reading? post. What did you think of me going to more of an literary analysis on it? Even better question. What did you think about Pygmalion? Did you get some of the other themes from it that I didn’t see in this read through? If you did, please let me know in the comments! I would love to hear from you.
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