Back to: Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
Table of Contents
Language is used as a marker of ability and social status in the play. To begin with, both Pickering and Higgins are experts in the field of language or linguistics.
They study people through their speech and language skills. The social classes are also valued by the difference in their speech and the content of their conversations.
Higgins mocks Clara for her lack of skills while grooming Eliza in the same. This shows the judgment that is attached to one’s use of language. Thus, language becomes a central theme of the story.
Society and Class
Set in the 20th Century England, the story talks about the social arrangement of England. The stratification is in terms of class and is qualified in terms of their wealth, power and influence.
The high and aristocratic class is shown to be superficial and arrogant with little regard for others. The middle class is said to be aspirational and want to join the rich classes. Finally, the lower classes are languishing in poverty and are critical of the other classes for robbing them of their dues.
However, the play also criticizes such arbitrary class differences by claiming that anyone can learn and acquire different skills and traits to rise to a higher class. Thus, there should not be a judgment of people in terms of their birth or class situation.
The story is all about the transformation of young Eliza from a simple flower girl to a sophisticated entrepreneur. With the help of Higgins and Pickering, Eliza is able to realize her hidden potential and become a shining example to women for all classes and situations and not just her own.
She outperforms women born in rich families and makes a case for nurture over nature. Through her transformation, the writer tries to inspire women who may feel arrested and suffocated in their circumstances.
The writer highlights how people identify themselves through different markers like wealth, education, language, and even lineage. Society classifies people and thus provides them class identities. Individuals, further assign other identities to themselves.
This is manifest in the transformation of Eliza. She is able to uplift her circumstances and become a woman of substance that is able to attract people from all classes.
Pickering acknowledges her success while Higgins is still not convinced and feels that she might be just pretending. Thus, identity is questioned in terms of its solidity. It remains a question that can we truly identify people in terms of their traits or is it always about pretenses and images.