George Bernard Shaw is a well-known playwright who participates in socialist activities and advocates the principles of Fabian society. Apparently, his well-known work, Pygmalion, is considered a satirical play that dwells on society`s errors and markers which divide people into such classes. Nevertheless, the paper aims to discuss in depth the class division of English Society and how it is set to examine social ills, prewired by several themes such as language, social classes and self-transformation. .
His representative work Pygmalion shows us how social ranks seems to unfold the theme of this play which looks upon the morality of the middle class as well as the superficiality of the upper class in English society. It also reveals how Eliza in this play has come to find her true identity during the time she has spent with Professor Higgins and his friend Mr. Pickering. George Bernard Shaw`s Socialist Views as Represented in PygmalionGeorge Bernard Shaw is a great dramatist whose works always sparkle with such creativity. His way of writing is an exceptional because he is endowed with such a talent that will swamp people with a sudden swirl of fierce emotions. Apparently, He has sealed a magical power which enables him to compose the most beautiful work ever written. Yet his talent tends to satiate our curiosity to know more about his life which has marked his greatest achievement.
He is born in Ireland and has spent most of his life reading books and writing. Apparently, his works have continued to mount and delve into a satirical depiction. By the 1980s, His plays have received a great attention from critics, who think that his way of writing is similar to the way Henric Ibsen writes his plays (Pettinger). In fact he is “one of the representatives of the realistic writers, whose works reveal the dark aspect of the society, criticize the capitalist`s hypocrisy and show sympathy to the poor”( Haiyan 42). As a Socialist, he is treated as an outcast because he hates what the capitalist system stands for and how many young soldiers are being killed under the guise of patriotism during the War (Pettinger). Apparently, his way of thinking was affected by “a movement and theory that emerged from the activities of the Fabian Society, which was founded in London in 1884.
“( The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica) and such a movement suggested ” bringing about a socialist society by means of intellectual debate, the publication of books and pamphlets, and the “permeation” of socialist ideas into the universities, the press, government institutions, and political parties”(” George Bernard Shaw and The Fabian Society”).In other words, it is “a social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources” ( The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Nevertheless, the paper aims to discuss Shaw`s satirical play, Pygmalion, which tends to attack the capitalist system and dwell on society`s errors and markers that divide people into such classes as shown below:A. The upper class people who lead an affluent life style and do not usually work like the hostess of the embassy party in Pygmalion.B. The upper middle class people who are financially secure and work in great jobs like Professor Higgins and his friend Mr.
PickeringC. The lower class people who either work like Eliza Doolittle or do not work at all like Mr. Doolittle.According to Raghukul Tilak`s Pygmalion critical study, this play is one of the most highly regarded play ever written and has proven to be an immense hit .He presents some characters that play major roles in this play. First, Professor Higgins who is devoted to his studies and is an expert in people`s dialect .Though he is a great tutor, he is rude, ill-mannered and a social rebel who hates shallow and superficial people from the upper class society (79).Second, Mr.
Pickering , a phonetician who has come all the way from India to meet Higgins, is considered a nice person that treats everyone with respect(80).Third, Eliza, the uneducated flower girl, is the one that Shaw picks as the heroine of his play(80). Here, Shaw is aware of such class distinction and the injustice that folds it. Throughout the play, he highlights the differences between the life of a person from the upper class like Professor Higgins and the life of a person from a lower class like Eliza. For instance, Professor Higgins leads such an affluent life style with servants to do his daily upkeep; whereas Eliza, a dirty flower girl, has to live in a sluggish, sullen and filthy apartment and has to work all day for nothing.
Eliza, who comes from a lower class family, has the privilege to attend an embassy party addressed like a beautiful duchess .Apparently, Higgins with his amorous touch of creativity makes people believe that she is an aristocratic woman who sounds like an upper class lady. In fact, this is considered exceptional because we know that the social class system is unbreakable and that people must not revolt against it, since it is hard for someone from a very low class to be accepted in such a privileged class. In the same vein, Talik `s critical study of Pygmalion shows us that Higgins rudeness and cruelty stems from his awareness of people`s cunning facade (106) and that is shown in the third act of the play when the Hills family visits his mother, he does not receive them with respect. Although the embassy party, with its hypocrisy, reveals that anyone can deceive people by the way he or she looks, Eliza seems to understand that such deception results from her being a pure woman who hates fooling other .
Therefore, in the last scene, she eventually decides to lead a real happy life and work as a phonetic teacher in order to attain people`s respect and be free from Higgins’s clutch. On the other hand, her father Alfred Doolittle, a lower class person, understands the ordeal behind the social class system .This can be seen in the second act of Pygmalion when he has refused to be a responsible father or even a labor because he has already known the corruption behind such system . In other words, he is a man who prefers to break from society`s norms and lives his life freely without any obstacles.The play seems to question the importance of language in determining someone`s class, his origin and his work.
Notably, Eliza in the first act of Pygmalion has been looked down by others because of the way she talks and dresses seems different from the way the upper class ladies must be. Apparently, Higgins seems interested in studying the English language because he insults Eliza for treating an embellished language with such cruelty. He says, “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and the bible and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.” Then he adds, “Yes, you squashed cabbage leaf, you incarnate insult to the English language”(Pygmalion 21). Honestly, we need to ask ourselves this question: Is it alright to stigmatize a person just because the way he or she speaks is different from others. Though Shaw admits that English society does not work hard to teach people how to talk properly, he insists that such thing can be remedied through education (“Fabian Socialism”).
When Higgins first meets Eliza, he describes her voice as “depressing and disgusting, like a bilious pigeon’s crooning” (Pygmalion 26), and adds that she is not allowed to live in this world because of her horrible accent. “So she comes to Higgins’ home and asks him to teach her the correct pronunciation”(Haiyan 43).Although Higgins tries teaching Eliza how to speak ,he has run into such difficulties which hinder her learning process .As the story continues, Eliza has realized that speech alone does not determine someone`s class; but also the way people treat you.
Clearly, she does not gain self -respect from learning sounds but rather from Mr. Pickering who treats her as a human. She also “sees the bleak side of the language: If one does not have enough money and a high social status to suit her beautiful and perfect language, she will also be discarded by the society cruelly” (Haiyan 44) Shaw assures us that people are able to solve their social problems even if it takes them so long to do it. According to Tilak, Shaw`s comedy is seen as a serious one which triggers laughter but at the same time triggers our thinking.
He even states that Shaw`s success comes from his ability of transforming the subject of phonetics into a funny matter that may trigger human`s interest (81-82). On the other hand, he argues that Eliza`s role in this play is powerful .She is a bald girl who has defied the impossible ,although she is from a lower class family (115).
He even discusses her modesty which is part of her being a woman and how she cherishes herself the most and refuses to be wallowed in vanity (116) .In fact, Eliza is an incredible woman with a great ambition. “She learns that she is a human being with all the potential that implies,” says one critic about Eliza (Carr 66). Axiomatically, Shaw’s play exposes the corruption among the social classes. The way Eliza becomes duchess even though she does not inherit money or social prestige (249).In addition, the true morality behind people`s desires to be accepted in a society that tends to shower them with perpetual happiness, offer them suitable jobs and encourage them to be useful(250). The fact that Shaw`s sympathy lies on the way we define the social class of a certain person indicates how such marker can determine our true status.
According to John Mills, Shaw reveals that “his continuing interest in the comic possibilities of cockney dialect” (45) is to criticize not only the lower class but the hypocrisy of the upper class people who only care for person`s language .In fact, the fourth scene of the play, shows us how the hostess of the embassy accepts the beautiful Eliza, who once used to be a flower girl, because she learns to sound like a lady. Moreover, Bernard Dukore says “A member of a particular social class is revealed not only by his speech and behavior, he is revealed also by the way in which he is treated”(288). Apparently, Mr. Pickering in this play is treating Eliza the same way he treats the other ladies from the upper class society. To the extent, Arthur Nethercot argues, “Colonel Pickering, however, is genuinely ‘conscience-stricken’ when Mrs. Higgins points out how selfish they have been; Professor Higgins has never shown any signs of having a conscience” (216).Mrs.
Higgins, on the other hand, is against the idea of bringing Eliza, a filthy flower girl, into her house, yet she sympathizes with her because if she remains in her son`s house , this may affect her socially and no one will marry her. In fact, When Eliza in the last scene of the play runs away from Higgins` house and decides to go to his mother`s house, she has already known that Mrs. Higgins will look after her and will side with her while her son is looking for her after her sudden disappearance. Nevertheless, Desmond MaccArthy argues that “Higgins has not the smallest inkling of what all this drilling and training has cost Eliza herself, or how hard she has tried to learn ;It has been hard enough work for him chipping the statue out of the block, but the marble itself has suffered more” (111).
In fact, Eliza learns that Higgins is indeed a cold man who never cares about her or about the way she is going to earn her living after leaving him, when he says, “No use slaving for me and then saying you want to be cared for: who cares for a slave? If you come back, come back for the sake of good fellowship; for you’ll get nothing else.”(Pygmalion 50), Later on, she threatens him to act as his former student, and as a result he gets angry with her, but then realizes that she is now a strong woman and comes to respect her, and says, “By George, Eliza, I said I’d make a woman of you; and I have. I like you like this. Now you’re a tower of strength: a consort battle ship. You and I and Pickering will be three old bachelors together instead of only two men and a silly girl”(Pygmalion 94) Yet Higgins questions her about becoming a phonetic teacher and she responds, “What a fool I was not to think of it before! You can’t take away the knowledge you gave me. You said I had a finer ear than you. And I can be civil and kind to people, which is more than you can” (Goldstone, Lerner, and Shaw 88),and as a result she remains a “typical petite bourgeois, who, as Higgins puts it, sees life and personal relations in commercial terms” (Crompton 147).
In addition, Haiyan`s “Eliza’s Awakening in Pygmalion” argue that:Higgins and Pickering’s irresponsible and casual attitude towards her makes her aware of her real identity—she is nothing but a tool for them to win the bet. All the things are just the mirage, beautiful but unreal, like dreaming a dream. Not until that time does she have a conscious version of herself. After thinking all over, she seeks for the freedom boldly and succeeds in self-identity.
Her awakening has been truly accomplished through her efforts and struggle.(48) Nevertheless, Shaw tries to examine Alfred and Eliza`s transformation .It seems that Alfred becomes a high status man without changing his manner or the way he speaks, whereas Eliza works so hard to sound like a high status lady in order to gain a respectful position in a professional job. However, Crompton claims that “Alfred, finding that his job as a garbage collector is too low on the social scale to have any moral standards attached to it, realizes that he already has, in a sense, the prerogatives of a duke, and is loath to rise” (144). Obviously, her father is angry since he inherits lots of money without working so hard to earn it.He also tries to compare the middle class and lower class by using Clara and Eliza Doolittle`s street` encounter in the first act as an example. Compared to Eliza, Clara is a peevish woman and treats strangers in a snobbish way and with no respect.
When Clara and her mother were waiting for a cab and then Eliza approached them to sell them flowers, Clara treated her in a bad way. On the other hand, Eliza` bad response is understandable because all she wants is to attain self-respect from others.Apparently, this play has touched upon the ugly side of reality, adorned with amorous touch of humor. The play indeed ends on a note of a great stillness. Clearly, the message the writer needs to convey has already aroused our sympathy towards the poor class and hatred towards the hypocrisy of the upper class. Although, we now live in a world that is huddled behind such rapidity, yet we fear that we will be injected with a smidgen of hatred and cruelty, because our life is prone with such a timeless rope that is coined with the way we think.Such issues make us question society`s morals that tend to capture our attentions with their sheer presence. It seems that the English society has created some conventional codes that individuals must not defy.
However, a character like Eliza has the right to develop her own individuality and choose what it is right for her and so do her father. However other critics suggest, “She belongs to neither the poor nor the rich, as the former fear her gaudy words, keeping far away from her, while the latter are too snobbish to be close to her”( Haiyan 44). Nevertheless, it is argued that ” by retaining silent and self-control, can Eliza accomplish the honorable task—to finish the self identity, because the real self is always in her heart and keeps accompany with her” (Zhang 2004). To sum up, George Bernard Shaw is shown criticizing the social classes, especially lower and upper statuses. In this play, Eliza defies her social class and attempts to find her independence just like Nora in A Doll`s House .It also reveals how Alfred becomes a middle class person by using different methods unlike his daughter, who achieves it through high level of education .
Nevertheless, Mr. Doolittle’s character exemplifies Shaw’s contempt for the lower class people. In fact, the criticism of social ranks seems to unfold the theme of Pygmalion which looks upon the morality of middle class as well as the superficiality of the upper class in English society. In other sense, it “reflects Bernard Shaw`s political attitude. Though criticizing capitalism violently, he still advocates the mild reform, instead of complete revolutions”( Haiyan 43) Works cited? Zhang, X. (2004). On the characters in the flower girl by Bernard Shaw. Journal of Anyang University.
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