PICKERING: [rising and standing over him gravely] Come, Higgins! You know what I mean. If I’m to be in this business I shall feel responsible for that girl. I hope it’s understood that no advantage is to be taken of her position. HIGGINS. What! That thing! Sacred, I assure you. [Rising to explain] You see, she’ll be a pupil; and teaching would be impossible unless pupils were sacred. I’ve taught scores of American millionairesses how to speak English: the best looking women in the world. I’m seasoned. They might as well be blocks of wood. I might as well be a block of wood. It’s- (38).
I’m very curious about how Henry Higgins, in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, feels about his profession and how this translates to his interpretation of society. Higgins, a professor of phonetics, ultimately enters into a bet in which he is assigned the task of teaching a poor, uneducated yet determined girl from the streets proper grammar, with the hope of transforming her into a duchess in a few months time. It’s clear from the beginning that Higgins, a man full of contradictions and no filter, is the protagonist. At first, Higgins is clearly opposed to the idea of teaching Eliza; this is evident through his blatant insults and sarcastic taunts. He makes fun of her poor grammar and the fact that she is clearly uneducated. Higgins infers that Eliza’s success will help her move up the social hierarchy and even though Eliza’s transformation is unequivocal, Higgins initial perception of her never changes – his general attitude towards her is consistent throughout the play.
In contrast, when Higgins first meets Pickering, an educated scholar, his demeanor is quite the opposite. The difference between his demeanors leads me to believe that language does affect Higgins’ perception of society. This is shown further due to his rude indifference of Eliza’s drastic transformation. I intend to prove that Higgins’ views language as a tool for social advancement and this understanding is what ultimately causes him to treat people more as objects than human beings. Higgins considers teaching Eliza as more of a social service due to her economic and social disadvantage. Higgins asserts that, “teaching would be impossible unless pupils were sacred” (38). At first glance I presumed that sacred meant holy or special, yet he assigns another meaning to the word.
Higgins regards the English language as an exclusive privilege; speech should be regarded with reverence and entitlement. He associates proper language with societal and spiritual implications and holds that it is what separates class from class and soul from soul. This suggests that Higgins believes the English language should be respected. In addition, he asserts that education and the ability to effectively communicate is paramount to the functionality of society; it’s important because without language, society would crumble. Therefore, in teaching Eliza proper grammar, Higgins gains a sense of power due to the belief he is changing her for the better, and ultimately into a different human being.
Although its obvious that Higgins thoroughly enjoys the subject of language and is seemingly enthusiastic about his profession, he tends to brag about his accomplishments and often belittles other people’s intellectual abilities. He treats people, Eliza in particular, with a rude indifference and no regard for feelings or emotions. It’s clear that Pickering is trying to look out for Eliza’s best interest when he argues, “If I’m to be in this business I shall feel responsible for that girl. I hope it’s understood that no advantage is to be taken of her position” (38.) Higgins bluntly responds “What! That thing!” and the difference in demeanor is candid. In comparison to Pickering, it’s clear that Higgins lacks decent manners. His cockiness is further exemplified through his boasting; “I’ve taught scores of American millionairesses how to speak English: the best looking women in the world. I’m seasoned” (38).
Finally, Higgins displays a sort of ambivalence towards language. He treats this knowledge of language is powerful and serves as a tool for social advancement. In addition, he believes that language is and should be a suitable subject for scientific studies. His ultimate view is that language should be utilized as a medium for artistic expression. Furthermore, it’s apparent that Higgins views his pupils as objects rather than human beings when he concedes, “They might as well be blocks of wood” (38). This exemplifies how language could be seen as artistic. Theoretically, a block of wood could be interpreted as a blank canvas – it symbolizes how he utilizes language to shape and transform his students into something else, something more. Higgins seems to be unsure of his own identity as well because he suggests, “I too might as well be a block of wood” (38).
Ultimately, Higgins shows that proper speech should be regarded as a fundamental necessity of society; the inability to communicate prohibits success. This assertion is exemplified through how he treats those around him and how he views those that he teaches. He clearly believes that language is of paramount importance especially in discerning social class. His assertion that he too “might as well be a block of wood,” is a fundamental example of his belief in the power of language as a tool for social advancement.
“The writing in this essay is my own work. If I have used outside sources, I have acknowledged them through correct documentation.” eading Pygmalion, we come to learn that communication is about more than words, and everything from clothing to accents to physical bearing can affect the way people interact with each other.
Higgins considers his teaching to be a kind of social work – the inability to communicate he suggests is at the bottom of mans social issue
Not only has Higgins come to view his clients as objects rather than human beings, he even seems to have lost something of his own identity in the process. There is another interesting interpretation howver. A block of wood, like a canvas is a medium for artistic expression. He of course, is [aid to shape his clients but this suggests that he himself could aslo be subject to the same process
In claiming he cant change his own nature, Higgins complicates his own claims about change and transformation: if he cant change his nature, we have to wonder how he can really under stand to change someone else’s
Even the things we do to establish a connection with unfamiliar people and things – like using slang or nicknames – can end up causing confusion and cases of mistaken identity
Higgins. About you, not about me. If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I cant change my nature; and I don’t intend to change my manners. My manners are exactly the same as colonel pickering’s. Liza. That’s not true. He treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess. Higgins. And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl.
Liza. I see. [She turns away composedly, and sits on the ottoman, facing the window]. The same to everybody. Higgins. Just so.
Liza. Like father.
Higgins. [grinning, a little taken down] without accepting the comparison at all points, eliza, its quite true that your father is not a snob, and that he will be quite at home in any station of life to which his eccentric destiny my call him. [Seriously] The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.” (99)
In this excerpt from George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, I am not sure (what Shaw is trying to convey through Higgins’ justification of his unruly behavior). if Higgins is attempting to justify his unruly behavior or if (Shaw is using him to voice his criticism of class distinctions) he is simply preaching about his concept of class distinctions (im not sure what exactly Higgins belives or is trying to convey? He does, however, have a penchant for talking about the soul of man, about the importance of language, and social equality). Higgins, a professor of phonetics, ultimately enters into a bet in which he is assigned the task of transforming a poor, uneducated yet determined girl from the streets, into a duchess in a few months time.
It’s clear from the beginning that Higgins, a man full of contradictions and no filter, is the protagonist. It’s ironic that throughout eliza’s transformation, she is the one who is blatantly manipulated and mistreated, meanwhile the other characters seem to receive less cynicism. On the other hand, Higgins’ actions and mannerisms never change – his general attitude is consistent throughout the play. His rude indifference to her drastic transformation leads me to believe that Higgins doesn’t believe in class distinctions. That said, (Higgins embodies the theme of I believe that Shaw uses Higgins as a patsy for his criticism of class distinctions – all classes should be treated the same.
Shaw develops Higgins’ belief in equality very clearly: “If you come back I shall treat you just as I have always treated you. I can’t change my nature; and I don’t intend to change my manners.” That said, it’s very clear that Higgins perception of those around him, and society in general, are concrete.
Throughout the play, Higgins character never evolves Higgins life revolves around Eliza for practically the whole play. All his time is spent transforming her and inventing a new Eliza meanwhile he seems to forget that she’s a human being with feelings. His unchanging perception and treatment of those around him is further reiterated when eliza claims colonel pickering “treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess” and Higgins simply retorts “And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl.”