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Pygmalion and Pretty Woman Essay

The relationship between the texts you have studied and their respective cultural context is significant because it provides insight into the way values have been maintained and changed. Discuss with reference to the text from the past and it’s appropriation.

The intended audience of both Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw and Pretty Woman, directed by Garry Marshall was the mass of society at the time of composition. This is seen through the choice of the form of each text, Pygmalion is a play because in the early twentieth centaury this was the popular way of spreading ideas and Pretty Woman is a Hollywood film, a current form of mass media today. Because both texts were aimed at the majority of society they each must represent the views of their cultural context to be popular, which both texts proved to be. As both texts reflect the cultural views of the context they were composed in, a comparison of the two provides a significant insight into the way specific values have been maintained and changed over time.

One of the main values explored in both texts is what each society believes to be the ‘perfect’ woman. By comparing the way these women in both texts are presented, we are given an insight into the changing status of women over time.

In English society in the early 1900’s women were seen as inferior to men and were often stereotyped in the sense of the clothes they wore, how they spoke and how they presented themselves, rather than their personality. Women’s inferiority is seen in Higgins and Eliza’s unequal relationship, Higgins is clearly presented as the master and owner of Eliza as he ‘buys’ her from her father and treats her as a “live doll”. Eliza is almost objectified by Higgins, representing the sexism present in the 1900s. She is seen as the ‘perfect woman’ by society only when she has been transformed to a dignified, well spoken, beautiful lady of high society. This is seen through the differing reactions to Eliza by the Eynsford Hill family when she is a flower girl, compared to when she is a ‘duchess’ .

The position of women in society has changed a great deal over the last centaury and the contemporary post-feminist society is believed to provide and equal playing field for all. Women and men are seen as equals socially as well as by law and in the workforce. This is seen in the portrayal as Vivian as the heroine in the film who, although she is still beautiful, is individual, independent and has a certain instinctive intelligence, she is seen as ideal for these personal qualities.

Another view explored in both texts is the complicated system of hierarchal social classes and bridging the gap or breaking the barrier between these classes.

Late nineteenth – early twentieth centaury English society had a rigid class system with the idea of upper, middle and lower classes that were based upon birthright. At the time Pygmalion was composed however, the system had begun to change as the growing middle class was beginning to rise up through the social hierarchy due to wealth. This is portrayed in the play when Mr. Doolittle becomes rich and rises the ladder into “middle class morality”. Shaw is deeply satirical of these social classes as is seen in how Eliza can easily rise herself to upper class and her statement to Higgins at the end of the play of “I had only to lift my finger to be as good as you” clearly makes his view clear that the social barriers are superficial.

Pretty Woman was written in the late 1980’s, a decade known as the “greed is good” decade were social class was based solely upon wealth, apart from in the global community were both ethnicity and wealth both play a role. Social hierarchy is more flexible as any one can rise to what is seen as higher society through the gaining of money, not through the class they were born into.

Prejudice between the classes is seen when the shop assistants refuse to serve Vivian on Rodeo drive. However as the movie is aimed at the “all day average American” one typically of the middle class, mistreatment of wealth or greed is seen as a bad thing. Seen in the portrayal of Edwards work partner Stukie who because of his attempts to increase the size of his company and his unfaithfulness to his wife is seen as superficial and by Edwards’s sad comment to Vivian: “we both screw people for money”. The audience instead sympathises with Vivian, who all though is of low class is still seen as the favoured character because of her personality. This demonstrates the modern disregard for social class, which is a value that has changed over the past one hundred years.

The major observation that can be made of both texts and which demonstrates changing values over time is in the conclusion of each story. Shaw was determined to give Pygmalion an anti-romantic ending, meaning the play did not conclude as a romantic comedy should, with the main female and male characters falling in love. His reasoning is that Eliza has achieved independence and no longer wishes to be seen as Higgins belonging, as well as that “his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable”. This reflects not only Shaw’s strongly feministic views but the need for more equal gender relationships at the time and the publics preferred choice of a more believable conclusion over a romantic one. Popular thinking at the time believed that people married within their class and Higgins’s dismissal of love as a “life of the gutter” demolishes any dream-like romantic world.

The conclusion of Pretty Woman was specifically designed to suit the mass market romantic comedy genre and to appeal to today’s romance obsessed society. The conclusion of Vivian and Edward falling in love and meeting symbolically half way in the fire escape is a typically “Hollywood” ending and highly unrealistic. To make the movie popular with a wide audience Marshall has created a fairytale ending when Vivian is “rescued by her prince” as she has always dreamed of. This constitutes the happy ending of a typical romantic comedy and reflects how today’s media has moulded society into having idealistic romantic perceptions.

Both texts were popular culture of their time and thus reflect the common ideals and values of the context in which they were created. By studying the relationships between each text and their cultural context we can compare both texts to reveal the way certain views, in this case romanticism, the role of women and social classes, have changed over time.

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