2. How Higgins views and treats Eliza
3. How Eliza views and treats Higgins
4. The view and treatment of Eliza towards Pickering
5. The view and treatment of Pickering towards Eliza
“You squashed cabbage leaf”
How the main characters view and treat each other in Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”
“I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will” (152).
In this quotation the female main character of Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion”, Eliza, evalutes how she is treated by the two male main characters Higgins and Pickering. But her opinion is only partly correct and apart from that she speaks from a one-sided point of view. This essay will try to be more discriminating by looking closer at the view and treatment of Eliza towards Higgins and Pickering. It will also take the attitude of the two towards Eliza into consideration by examining the relationships always from both sides to show how the main characters view and treat each other in the play.
Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics, gets to know Eliza as a flower girl in the first act. At this point he regards her as a despicable person. And so he does during the whole first part of the play. He listens to how she uses her language and is able to identify that she is from Lisson Grove, because he can analyse her accent and uneducated way of speaking. As he is so well-educated, he considers all people who speak with a lower class accent, especially the dirty flower girl, to be stupid and he looks upon himself as a smarter person. He proudly states: “You can spot an Irishman or a Yorkshireman by his brogue. I can place any man within six miles”(30). Right at the beginning he calls Eliza a “squashed cabbage leaf”(32) and even worse, he says that “a woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere – no right to live.”(31). This shows that he really scorns her at that time.
Throughout the play Higgins’ attitude towards Eliza changes noticeably. In comparison to his attitude towards Eliza in the beginning, he regards her at the end still as despicable, but it seems that he treats and views her additionally with some appreciation. He is fascinated by his creation, because he has transformed Eliza from a lower class flower girl to an upper class lady. Higgins is “ein ausschließlich für seine Wissenschaft lebender, in seinem Sozialverhalten gänzlich spontaner, impulsiver Mensch” (Nachwort 192) and therefore he shows at the end that he likes Eliza in a strange way. He sees her as “a tower of strength: a consort battleship“(166), and when she utters that she is going to marry Freddy, he starts laughing ironically and cannot believe it. On the one hand this could show his jealousy and that he really has lovely feelings for her, but on the other hand it could also mean that he wants something better than Freddy for her, because she is the masterpiece that he has created. He confesses: “I like you like this.”(166) and this shows that he does not like Eliza as a person, he likes the fact that she reflects his ability “to re-create a poor, uneducated young woman”(Vesonder 42).
After all, Higgins’ opinion towards Eliza has slightly changed from the beginning to the end, but this has not happend because he came to like her as a human being. If this had been the case, he would have tried to change his manners to get along well with her. But he stands firmly and pretends not to care about her coming back to his house and he shows this stating: “If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I cant change my nature; and I dont intend to change my manners.”(158).
As we have seen, the attitude of Higgins towards Eliza does change throughout the play. But what happens the other way around, on Eliza’s side? Are there also differences between her view of Higgins at the beginning and in the end?
When Eliza gets to know Higgins in act one, she gets to know him as an unfriendly person. She immediately feels threatened by his presence, she gets hysterical after a bystander has told her that Higgins, at that point only known as the note-taker, writes down every word she says and protects herself by saying: “I’m a respectable girl”(22). But soon she realizes that Higgins, as an expert linguist, can help her to rise in society and thus to fulfill her dream which is to “be a lady in a flower shop”(44). Therefore she visits him in his house and wants him to transform her into an upper class lady “by teaching her how to speak properly”(Vesonder 42).
In the end, her view of Higgins is not obvious. Her attitude seems to have changed and developed. During the last conversation in which also Pickering is present, she pretends not to notice Higgins, but her utterances seem to be made to provoke him. She wants him to react, but in the end they both insult each other. The reader gets the impression that she likes him in a way, even if he treats her badly. It seems that she singles Pickering out for praise and states to marry Freddy only to hurt Higgins and have him say something that shows his feelings towards her. He does not understand this and just states with his “jungenhafte[n], spontane[n] Rücksichtslosigkeit”(Nachwort 191): ”If you can’t stand the coldness of my sort of life, and the strain of it, go back to the gutter”(164). Even though he gets more friendly after this statement, or at least what he thinks to be friendly compared to his previous behaviour, Eliza realizes that he will never be able to treat her in a way she thinks she deserves to be treated. She “shows her new strength”(Vesonder 43) and draws the conclusions from his behaviour: “Then I shall not see you again, Professor.”(167).