All quotations are from the Gutenberg Pygmalion.
It is difficult to find a definition of "harm" that can be applied to
the change undergone by Eliza. Materially, her situation has been
improved. She has been given better clothing, housing, diet, and
hygiene. She has had more money. Educationally, she has also
benefited. She has been exposed to music, literature, gentility of
manners, foreign languages, and the spirit of intellectual inquiry.
She has not been beaten, nor has she been sexually exploited. She has
been compensated for her work in the household. Her sole complaint was
that Higgins, and Pickering to a lesser extent, has been
inconsiderate, indifferent to her feelings and to her future
This is a complaint that is anticipated by Mrs. Pearce and Mrs.
Higgins. Shaw himself prepares the reader (not the audience, of
course) for it when he remarks upon the childishness which Higgins
exhibits as his normal behavior. Pickering notices the same trait
several times, although he excuses it as unintentional and natural.
The reader can take it as fact, then, that Higgins is blind to the
effects of his actions, irresponsible, and insensitive. Certainly, his
demeanor in the play supports the conclusion that he is oblivious to
common feeling and practicalities. That much established, does Higgins
It must certainly be admitted that Higgins makes Eliza unhappy by his
lack of concern for her feelings. It is, however, his contention that
such feelings are unworthy of him or her. She is free to like or
dislike him, as he is free to do with her. That she might be in a more
vulnerable state seems to him a ridiculous thought. That she can hurt
him, he is loathe to admit, but confesses it, and takes this to be a
sign of their equality. Indeed, it is his opinion that he can only be
emotionally interested in a woman like his mother, and he only truly
respects Eliza when she stands up to him and threatens to become
herself a teacher of elocution after his manner.
LIZA [defiantly non-resistant] Wring away. What do I care? I knew
you'd strike me some day. [He lets her go, stamping with rage at
having forgotten himself, and recoils so hastily that he stumbles back
into his seat on the ottoman]. Aha! Now I know how to deal with you.
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. Aha! That's
done you, Henry Higgins, it has. Now I don't care that [snapping her
fingers] for your bullying and your big talk. I'll advertize it in the
papers that your duchess is only a flower girl that you taught, and
that she'll teach anybody to be a duchess just the same in six months
for a thousand guineas. Oh, when I think of myself crawling under your
feet and being trampled on and called names, when all the time I had
only to lift up my finger to be as good as you, I could just kick
HIGGINS [wondering at her] You damned impudent slut, you! But it's
better than snivelling; better than fetching slippers and finding
spectacles, isn't it? [Rising] By George, Eliza, I said I'd make a
woman of you; and I have. I like you like this.
LIZA. Yes: you turn round and make up to me now that I'm not afraid of
you, and can do without you.
HIGGINS. Of course I do, you little fool. Five minutes ago you were
like a millstone round my neck. Now you're a tower of strength: a
consort battleship. You and I and Pickering will be three old
bachelors together instead of only two men and a silly girl.
It is evident at that point that whatever emotional violence Eliza has
suffered theretofore, she has overcome it and has grown stronger in
both her emotional self-control and in her character. She has attained
stature in the her own eyes.
It must also be admitted that Eliza knew from the beginning of their
relationship what sort of temperament Higgins had, and what sort of
foresight he was likely to exercise on her behalf.
MRS. PEARCE. Will you please keep to the point, Mr. Higgins. I want to
know on what terms the girl is to be here. Is she to have any wages?
And what is to become of her when you've finished your teaching? You
must look ahead a little.
HIGGINS [impatiently] What's to become of her if I leave her in the
gutter? Tell me that, Mrs. Pearce.
MRS. PEARCE. That's her own business, not yours, Mr. Higgins.
HIGGINS. Well, when I've done with her, we can throw her back into the
gutter; and then it will be her own business again; so that's all
LIZA. Oh, you've no feeling heart in you: you don't care for nothing
but yourself [she rises and takes the floor resolutely]. Here! I've
had enough of this. I'm going [making for the door]. You ought to be
ashamed of yourself, you ought.
HIGGINS. There! That's all you get out of Eliza. Ah--ah--ow--oo! No
use explaining. As a military man you ought to know that. Give her her
orders: that's what she wants. Eliza: you are to live here for the
next six months, learning how to speak beautifully, like a lady in a
florist's shop. If you're good and do whatever you're told, you shall
sleep in a proper bedroom, and have lots to eat, and money to buy
chocolates and take rides in taxis. If you're naughty and idle you
will sleep in the back kitchen among the black beetles, and be
walloped by Mrs. Pearce with a broomstick. At the end of six months
you shall go to Buckingham Palace in a carriage, beautifully dressed.
If the King finds out you're not a lady, you will be taken by the
police to the Tower of London, where your head will be cut off as a
warning to other presumptuous flower girls. If you are not found out,
you shall have a present of seven-and-sixpence to start life with as a
lady in a shop. If you refuse this offer you will be a most ungrateful
and wicked girl; and the angels will weep for you. [To Pickering] Now
are you satisfied, Pickering? [To Mrs. Pearce] Can I put it more
plainly and fairly, Mrs. Pearce?
It should be remembered that Eliza sought out Higgins of her own free
will, to hire him to teach her to speak in the manner of a shop girl,
so that she could be hired.
THE FLOWER GIRL. Good enough for ye--oo. Now you know, don't you? I'm
come to have lessons, I am. And to pay for em too: make no mistake.
THE FLOWER GIRL. I want to be a lady in a flower shop stead of selling
at the corner of Tottenham Court Road. But they won't take me unless I
can talk more genteel. He said he could teach me. Well, here I am
ready to pay him--not asking any favor--and he treats me as if I was
She was already dissatisfied with her life, and wanted to leave it
behind. She aspired to something better. Her subsequent
dissatisfaction with the that goal cannot fairly be laid at the feet
of Higgins: she has new aspirations, perhaps unrealistic ones, but
that is not an injury. That she got more than she bargained for is
simply ironic, not tragic.
LIZA. You don't call the like of them my friends now, I should hope.
They've took it out of me often enough with their ridicule when they
had the chance; and now I mean to get a bit of my own back. But if I'm
to have fashionable clothes, I'll wait. I should like to have some.
Mrs. Pearce says you're going to give me some to wear in bed at night
different to what I wear in the daytime; but it do seem a waste of
money when you could get something to show. Besides, I never could
fancy changing into cold things on a winter night.
That she understood the conditions of her pupilage is quite clear.
That she had the option of leaving at any time is also clear. That she
had the will to leave she herself makes clear.
Regarding her future prospects, Eliza expresses dismay that she is
equally unfitted to return to her former way of life or to remain in
the social circles to which Higgins has introduced her. She despises
the former, and wants the means for the latter. She, Mrs. Higgins
concurring, asserts that Higgins has not provided for her, having
transformed her. Higgins retorts that she can do whatever she likes.
He accepts no responsibility for her life, although he feels
perfectly free to manage her life to suit his wants. Shaw invokes his
dramatic license when he introduces a bit of deus ex machina here to
resolve the conflict in favor of Higgins, hauling in the heretofore
unknown American millionaire philanthropist Wannafeller, the
benefactor of Alfred Doolittle, thereby relieving Eliza of any
pressing necessity. It is a clumsy and hurried invention, occasioned
by the lack of time to tie up this particular loose end, and it
obscures the fact that Eliza has more options open to her at the end
of the play than she did in the first act.
HIGGINS. Oh, lots of things. What about your old idea of a florist's
shop? Pickering could set you up in one: he's lots of money.
[Chuckling] He'll have to pay for all those togs you have been wearing
today; and that, with the hire of the jewellery, will make a big hole
in two hundred pounds. Why, six months ago you would have thought it
the millennium to have a flower shop of your own. Come! you'll be all
Eliza is frightened by the possibility that she will not succeed in
the world, that she has no guaranteed life awaiting her after her stay
with Higgins in Wimpole Street, but this is surely not his fault.
Nothing is guaranteed. She has been assured that she will be helped to
find a suitable situation, but that does not satisfy her more basic
need, that for some gesture of human feeling and respect from Higgins.
It has already been made clear that he is incapable of giving such a
demonstration of affection.
Financially, it is unreasonable to expect that Higgins would think
ahead to assure her position. He is utterly careless of money: his own
finances are rather shaky, as the letter from the money lender attests
(HIGGINS [glancing at the billet-doux] Money-lender. [He throws the
letter after the circulars].), and with no clients during the months
of Eliza's training one can assume that he had no income; further he
has no compunctions whatever about disposing of Pickering's money for
him (vide supra), showing his total dissociation from daily reality.
In the end, Higgins has given Eliza the best that he can, and with the
advantages of her diction, deportment, and strengthened
self-confidence, she is better suited to succeed than most other young
women of her background.
It might be said that Higgins has eradicated the personality of Eliza
and replaced it with one of his own making. Certainly, he thinks of
her as his creature. (Higgins has the habit of contradicting himself,
HIGGINS. You let her alone, mother. Let her speak for herself. You
will jolly soon see whether she has an idea that I haven't put into
her head or a word that I haven't put into her mouth. I tell you I
have created this thing out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent
Garden; and now she pretends to play the fine lady with me.
HIGGINS [sitting down beside her] Rubbish! you shall marry an
ambassador. You shall marry the Governor-General of India or the
Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, or somebody who wants a deputy-queen. I'm
not going to have my masterpiece thrown away on Freddy.
But the old Eliza, her fundamental personality, is still alive and
well under the polished veneer of social conformity that Higgins
created. Her personal dignity remains, and Shaw allows bits of the
real Eliza to slip though to demonstrate its resiliency.
HIGGINS [rising] Forgive! Will she, by George! Let her go. Let her
find out how she can get on without us. She will relapse into the
gutter in three weeks without me at her elbow.
Doolittle appears at the centre window. With a look of dignified
reproach at Higgins, he comes slowly and silently to his daughter,
who, with her back to the window, is unconscious of his approach.
PICKERING. He's incorrigible, Eliza. You won't relapse, will you?
LIZA. No: Not now. Never again. I have learnt my lesson. I don't
believe I could utter one of the old sounds if I tried. [Doolittle
touches her on her left shoulder. She drops her work, losing her
self-possession utterly at the spectacle of her father's splendor]
HIGGINS [with a crow of triumph] Aha! Just so. A--a--a--a-- ahowooh!
A--a--a--a--ahowooh ! A--a--a--a--ahowooh! Victory! Victory! [He
throws himself on the divan, folding his arms, and spraddling
Although Higgins takes this a proof that Eliza will relapse, it is
really evidence that she retains her identity, for she would shun her
father, and she despises her step-mother-to-be.
LIZA [looking fiercely round at him] I wouldn't marry YOU if you asked
me; and you're nearer my age than what he is.
HIGGINS [gently] Than he is: not "than what he is."
LIZA [losing her temper and rising] I'll talk as I like. You're not my
So what harm has Higgins done to Eliza? She is her own woman. She has
her choice of futures. If there is any one of the characters who has a
legitimate complaint, it is Alfred Doolittle, but he is resigned to
the middle class trap of morality and respectability.
Bernard Shaws Pygmalion was written in three different versions in
1916, 1938, and 1941.
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