Pygmalion is a brilliant play written by Bernard Shaw that gives us an idea of the value in the Victorian era through the witty and rousing lines of his characters. The message Shaw tried to limn through his genius work is vividly drawn and is dearly ambiguous to anyone who is paying attention. In Pygmalion, Shaw focused his theme on the Victorian decorum of the contemporary society, which is named in many parts of Mr. Doolittle’s speech in the play as the “middle class morality”.
In the Victorian times, the rich were distinguished from the poor vehemently as they lead distinct lives-they dress differently, they act differently and they even speak differently. Above all, the ethics exercised by the rich deviates from the poor, if there were any for them in the first place. Thus, nothing is expected from a pauper whereas everything is expected from a sufficient (middle class).
The first and most potent item of middle class morality is the obligation of men to protect and foster women regardless it is needed or not. In the very first act of Pygmalion such burden is observed through the harsh demands of Clara (woman) to Freddy (man), compelling him to find a taxi for her. Freddy, as uneager as he was, still obliged and carried out his role in the middle class morality, only to find that his endeavors were in vain as his darling mother and sister were long gone upon his return. Another example of this is also from Act I, where nosy bystanders (men) stood out for Eliza (woman) with the silly sense of heroic conquest to save her from the vile Higgins and his notes, but soon learnt that it was merely a mistake. These deeds, however, were not chivalry, they were more like the empty prayers before dinner made in a sanctimonious fashion-a hypocritical routine.
On the other hand, women also bears expectation from men and other women during Victorian times to find a wealthy man to support her because she isn’t supposed to work but to polish herself and other trophies like her children or household. Professor Higgins believes in such a virtue, as he intended Eliza to be a “consort for a king” and is stunned at her decision of marrying Freddy. Also, Eliza’s stepmother decided to marry Doolittle again as “middle class morality claims its victim”, meaning that she was in a way coerced into the action.
Mr. Doolittle, a minor character in the play, takes a rather big role interpreting middle class morality. After his unlikely fate with the Wannafeller Moral Reform World League and the fortune that comes along with it, he became a living contrast of being poor and being rich. By his own words, he stood testimony to the joy of poverty and the woe of prosperity-“I have to live for others and not for myself: that’s middle class morality”, portraying an ironic picture of the poor enjoying life more than the rich-the world of Pygmalion and the Victorian times.
From his script, we can see all the not-so-subtle offenses Shaw made to taint the idea of middle class morality and it becomes a prominent factor that made the strong tale worth reading and studying.
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Topic: Middle Class Morality in Pygmalion
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