Division of Social Classes through Language: George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion"

Division of Social Classes through Language: George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion"

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An important lesson that has been learned throughout life and the beginning of time is to respect the individual’s content and not their image. It is shown throughout George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, that different people can be brought together in the same circumstance, being a heavy rain shower in London, but distance themselves so effusively because of outer appearances. The situation between the nonintellectual flower-girl and the sophisticated Pickering, Higgins, and the Mother-daughter is drawn out over the judgment of her poor speech and her value as a person as she constantly defends herself against their prejudice. Shaw uses Pygmalion to show how language shallowly reflects the importance of social classes within the Victorian era through the portrayal of characters, their conflicts, and transformation in the first act of the play.



The characters introduced in the beginning of the play prove to illustrate the relationship between social classes and the expectations of each other. The character’s situation within the story shows its importance in the context and is able to define his/her social standing. For example, the mother expects others to do things for her, showing her societal role as a woman who chooses not to help herself; “You really are very helpless, Freddy. Go again; and don’t come back until you have found a cab” (Shaw pg.11). She is able to show her class authority in a lady-like manner while presenting how she believes she should be treated by belittling the value of those who aren’t respecting that. Eliza presents her role as a lower class member of society when she is knocked into by Freddy: “Nah then, Freddy: look wh’y y’ gowin, deah. FREDDY” (Shaw pg. 2). Freddy’s lack of acknowledgment a...


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...son which Eliza feels is more important than the prejudice resolved by Higgins lessons.



The elements that are illustrated within Pygmalion support the theme of language being the distinctions amid the social classes. The characters prove themselves through their speech to belong to their appropriate classes. The transformations are seen from the young girl still in training alongside her already sophisticated mother, and the impact Higgins’ criticism has had on Eliza. The purpose shown within the play is further supported that being educated will result in a new world of opportunities, while it will never change the true self worth of the individual. Conclusively it establishes that social classes themselves are superficial, and to judge on the content of character will always be more important than imagine on the outer surface.



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