Evolution in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion

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Evolution in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion

In the play, Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, Professor Higgins, an expert in the art of speech, bets Colonel Pickering, another master of phonetics, that he can take a common flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, and pass her off as a duchess at an ambassador's Garden Party. During this story, Shaw uses the characters to demonstrate the necessity of human evolution. As Eliza's verbal ability increases, so does her personality and self-esteem; and Higgins's failure to recognize her changes leads to a severe strain on their relationship.

Eliza begins the story as an unstable, insecure character who acknowledges her membership in the less privileged class but still tries desperately to prevent those above her from thinking poorly of her. She feels she must emphasize the fact that she's "a respectable girl,"1 even though she is somewhat timid. When Higgins is seen taking down notes of her speech, and is suspected of being a policeman, she becomes defensive and is willing to "take [a] bible oath [she] never said a word"(5) to Colonel Pickering that may be criminal. These things demonstrate Eliza's own self-pity and her lack of confidence in any of her actions. Louis Crompton, an author of several essays on Shaw's works, agrees that "as she belongs to a class that can not afford lawyers, she had best be loud in her protestations of virtue."2 She is ashamed about the poor area from where she has come, which Higgins identified from her accent as Lisson Grove. She is frequently seen as slightly weeping or downright crying in the first and second acts, showing the emotion that is built up which she finds difficult to control when her spirit is wounded. She refers to herself as "a poor gir...

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.... 3, 103-104.

4 Crompton, 143.

5 Crompton, 147.

6 George Jean Nathan, "Chronicles", T.C.L.C. Sharon K. Hall ed. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1980) vol. 3, 387.

Works Cited and Consulted

Crompton, Louis. "Pygmalion," Shaw the Dramatist. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969. 141-151.

Jones, Dr. Daniel. "G.B.S. 90," A Library of Literary Criticism. Ruth Z. Temple ed. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1966. vol.3, 103-104.

Mudrick, Marvin. "Shaw," T.C.L.C. Sharon K. Hall ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. vol. 3, 402.

Nathan, George Jean. "Chronicles," T.C.L.C. Sharon K. Hall ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. vol. 3, 387.

Phelps, William Lyon. "George Bernard Shaw," T.C.L.C. Sharon K. Hall ed. Detroit: Gale Research, 1980. vol. 3, 384-385

Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion. New York: Dover Publications, 1994.
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