Problems and Emotions in Pygmalion

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Pygmalion is one of the famous plays of George Bernard Shaw. The Cockney dialect of Eliza creates crisis in her life. Shaw’s Pygmalion is which deals with struggles and sufferings of Eliza’s accent and mostly the love of Eliza was not acknowledged by Higgins.  Pygmalion is actually a feel of love but the major part revolves around problems, which discusses about love then class discrimination and finally leads to a miserable ending. The love of a flower girl Eliza had been shattered by the rude Higgins. Although Shaw called this play as ?romance’ it is actually a problem play. It presents two problems. The first is the problem of education, and the second is the problem of the sounds of the English Literature.

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  As A.C. Ward has pointed out, the problem of education is a world problem.

 Education widens the horizon of a student and gives him intellectual, moral and spiritual enlightenment. He is taken to a higher level of thinking and feeling. And then the teacher leaves him free to taste has become refined and he has higher expectations from life. He cannot go back to his old life and remain happy. He develops desires and ambitions which cannot be fulfilled. The result is frustration and discontent.

   This is just what happens to Eliza. Higgins teaches her how to speak correctly; and Pickering trains her to move and behave in a refined manner. The result is that her mind develops and her taste becomes refined. And after the course is over, the teachers tell her that now she is free to pursue her path of life herself. She is bewildered and unhappy. She cannot go back to her old life, and she is not accepted in the higher society for which her teachers have trained her. What have you made me fit for? She asks. She was happy in her ignorance and dirt. Education and refinement have made her discontented. She tells her teacher, You never thought of the trouble it would make for me. To this Higgins replies, Would the world ever have been made if its Maker had been afraid of making trouble? This problem is particularly faced by teachers who teach students from the lower strata of society.

        The second problem that is presented in this play is that of the sounds of the English language. Shaw had great love and respect for English”the language of Shakespeare and Milton. He was disgusted with the harsh manner in which many Englishmen spoke the language. The uneducated people of London, for example, do not open their mouths and mispronounce all the words. This was the cockney dialect of Eliza.

        But why do people mispronounce English words? It is because of the defective English alphabet in which the letters do not stand for specific sounds. The same letter produces different sounds in different words. The English spellings are also very confusing. The result is that only men and women of the higher classes, who have been educated in good Schools and universities, are able to speak and write correct English. If a person speaks a word as it is written he often goes wrong. For instance, if a person tries to speak ?but’ and ?put’ in the same way, he would commit a big blunder.

      The English people are very sensitive to the way in which a person speaks the language. If a person speaks with the correct accent and pronunciation he is considered ?high class’. Thus Shaw found that a person is supposed to belong to the higher classes not because of any intrinsic merit or worth but only because of his accent and pronunciation.

   Eliza was considered ?low class’ because she spoke the cockney dialect. The fashionable flower-shops were not prepared to employ her. But after she has been trained to speak correctly, this illegitimate low class girl is regarded as a princess. If, therefore, the problem of language is solved, the glaring disparities between different classes will disappear.

   Shaw suggested that the English alphabet should be made phonetic. Each letter or symbol should stand for a specific sound. If that happens everyone will be able to pronounce English words correctly and class distinctions based on language will disappear. Shaw also advocated spelling reform. Thus the two problems presented in Pygmalion are: the world problem of education which leads to discontent, and the British problem of the sounds of English which leads to class distinctions.


         Shaw made the discussion of emotion, the main theme of Pygmalion. He chose the story in which Pygmalion finally marries his creation, Galatea. He wanted to show that this was a wrong understanding of human emotions. A creator cannot love and marry his own creation. His Pygmalion will live in close companionship with his Galatea but will have no sexual feeling for her.

         Shaw’s own story has tremendous romantic possibilities. Higgins picks up a flower-girl and undertakes with all his labour and art to transform her into a duchess. He is a bachelor. She is young, beautiful, intelligent and hard-working. He is a phonetician. She responds wonderfully to his teaching. In fact she has a better ear for sounds than he. He admires her receptivity and her talent. They live in terms of intimacy and within six months he becomes wholly dependent on her for his clothes and his engagements. Taking human nature as it is, the probability was that he should have fallen in love with her. When she leaves the house, he is terribly upset; and he and Pickering run about in search of her and even ring up the police. At his mother’s place he wanders about distractedly and says, I cannot find anything. I do not know what appointments I have. And then he says emphatically, But we want to find her.

      Shaw does not understand the feelings of his own characters, otherwise he should have understood that Higgins was in love with Eliza and the play should have ended with their marriage. That would have been the correct climax of the play. But Shaw suspected the emotions and had a horror of happy endings. So he ends the play in an improbable anticlimax.

         Eliza, after the Ambassador’s Party developed a personality of her own, and did not act as an unemotional plaything of Shaw. Her creator did not understand her feelings at all. Why was she in violent revolt against the unemotional, dehumanized attitude of Higgins? Shaw’s explanation that she wanted kindness, petting and admiration is wholly wrong. She was in love with Higgins. She marries Freddy only because Shaw forces Higgins not to marry her. Shaw makes much of her statement to Higgins, I would not marry you if you asked me. It must be remembered that she said this angrily after he had made the insulting proposal that she should marry Pickering.

       The Life Force in her was impelling her to marry Higgins. But because she could not have him, she married Freddy who was weak and helpless and had hardly any character.

      In his ?Sequel’ Shaw explained why Higgins was not attracted by young girls and why Eliza decided that Higgins would not do as a husband. But why did he have to explain this? Perhaps he realized himself that the readers and audiences would regard the end of the play as improbable and so he had to explain to them why the events took this turn. We cannot help feeling that the anti-sentimental theories of Shaw got the better of the dramatist in him and forced him to end the playa in an unromantic tense atmosphere.

     As A.C. Ward has said, In his determination to make the romance unromantic, Shaw has twisted Pygmalion from what would have been, by the principles of drama, its natural end.


          Shaw was by nature suspicious of the emotions. He called this Play Pygmalion but he decided that his play must not end according to the Pygmalion-Galatea story. The play must not end with the marriage of Higgins and Eliza.

    But the characters that he created started behaving in a way different from what he had intended. The creations of great dramatists develop a life and personality of their own. They sometimes refuse to act in the way the dramatist wants them to behave; and if he forces an action on them, the readers start feeling that it is improbable.

     This is what happens to Eliza after the Ambassador’s Party. She had lived in great intimacy with Higgins for six months. He had given his best training to her and was very proud of her achievements. Eliza expected that after she had won his bet, he would propose to her. But after the party he only thanked God that it was all over. For him it had been only an ?experiment’. Her feelings and her future did not matter to him at all. That is why she revolted most violently and threw his slippers on his face, shocked him by returning the jewels and even the ring and left the house. If she had not met Freedy she would have jumped into the river and killed herself.

     Why was she moved so tremendously? Had anyone misbehaved towards her? No. Then why was she so much perturbed? Shaw’s explanation which he puts in the mouth of Mrs. Higgins is that she would have been happy if Higgins and Pickering had thanked her, petted her and told her how splendid she was at the party. But this is most improbable. It is love that she expected and not kindness. But Shaw, the anti-sentimentalist, would not admit this.

    It is true that Eliza tells Higgins, I would not marry you even if you proposed to me. But it must be remembered that she says that when she is shocked at his audacity in suggesting that she should marry Pickering. Shaw’s interpretation that she felt instinctively that she should not marry Higgins, does not appear probable in the play.

    Why then does she think of marrying Freedy? It is seen in the play that she does not think of marrying Freddy till that fatal night. When she becomes sure that Higgins would never marry her, she thinks of Freedy who had been in love with her for a long time. About Freddy she says, And if he is weak and poor and wants me, may behe would make me happier than my betters that bully me and do not want me.

     So it is clear that she wants to marry Freddy only because Higgins bullies her and does not want her.

     And what about Higgins? By forcing his anti-sentimental theory on Higgins Shaw has made his character improbable. It is unthinkable that a young professor should not fall in love with an innocent, talented and beautiful young girl with whom he has lived on terms of intimacy for six months. Shaw calls him a life-giving professor of phonetics but because of his beliefs he makes him a lifeless statue.

Moreover, there is a storm in Wimpole Street when it is discovered that Eliza has bolted. It is clear that Higgins would have declared his love for Eliza when she was found, if Shaw had not prevented him.

Thus judging from the situations and the nature of the characters the natural end of this play should have been an Eliza- Higgins romance. That would have been a better match than that between Eliza and Freddy. But in his determination to make the romance unromantic he has twisted the play and spoilt it.

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Problems And Emotions In Pygmalion. (2019, Aug 06). Retrieved March 20, 2023 , from

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