Character Manipulation In The Novel Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw

Categories: Pygmalion

In the novel Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw concerns himself with the method in which mannerisms both define and defy notions of class in Victorian England. He skillfully illustrates this through his portrayal of minor character Alfred Doolittle. Doolittle’s character represents a paradox in that his poverty, which would be thought to make a man more conscious and ambitious, makes him hedonistic and manipulatively charming. The audience first meets Mr. Doolittle in a scene in which he visits Professor Higgins at his laboratory.

Although the audience initially thinks he is there concerning Eliza, that notion is soon put to rest once he makes a request for money.

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Shaw purposefully makes the tactics Mr. Doolittle uses to extort said money from Professor Higgins contradictory to the social expectations of the Victorian Age. First, Mr. Doolittle does not abide by his era’s rules of respect when encountering someone of a higher class.

When Mr. Doolittle first enters the Wimpole Street laboratory of Professor Higgins, Shaw describes him as “equally free from fear and conscience” (Shaw 24) despite his dustman’s clothing.

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This dress immediately puts him out of place among the cluttered laboratory of a Victorian scholar. Mr. Doolittle, however, pays no mind and sits down “magisterially” (24) as if he owns the place. At face value, the audience sees this as terribly eccentric. A poor man in Victorian England would be expected to have some sort of trepidation entering such a respectable man’s home, especially without an appointment and especially when making a request for money. Doolittle exhibits a level of social awareness, but he chooses to forego such customs in application.

While Professor Higgins at points in the story can get away with his rude social habits thanks to his class, the audience immediately grabs onto Doolittle’s strange mannerisms due to his revealing lower-class dress. The audience would at first believe that if Doolittle did want money from Professor Higgins, it would be a large sum that could help him move up the social ladder. Shaw surprises his audience after Doolittle refuses an offer of a sum of money he sees as too large, stating that it would “make a man feel prudent-like, and then goodbye to happiness” (28). Doolittle may be manipulative, but he is at the same time candid. When Doolittle claims that too much money would make him unhappy, he rejects the common notion that poverty and dissatisfaction are directly related. Mr. Doolittle is content in his impoverished lifestyle and grateful for the freedoms it affords him.

He can live with a woman he is not married to, party as much as he pleases, and worry not about whatever remarks slip out of his inebriated mouth. Shaw attempts to contradict the stereotype that all impoverished people aspire to a higher social class like the Eliza does. The most surprising aspect of Mr. Doolittle is not his untraditional tactics for extorting money but rather the fact that he is quite successful at it. Although Mr. Doolittle may not be formally educated, Shaw stresses to the audience that this is one clever man. Higgins observes that Mr. Doolittle “has a certain natural gift of rhetoric” (25), further supporting that Doolittle’s extortion tactics have become a choreographed routine performed many times. Over the course of his meeting with Higgins and Pickering, Doolittle effortlessly steers the conversation away from Eliza (the connection that got him in the door) to a blatant request for money. Although at first Higgins reacts to Doolittle’s lack of morals with contempt, he grows to be amused at the poor dustman and even offers him more money than he asks for.

After Doolittle justifies why he is not married to the woman he lives with, Higgins remarks to Pickering that “if we listen to this man another minute we shall have no convictions left” (29) because the way Doolittle spins his untraditional beliefs make them seem like common sense. Shaw stresses to the audience that Mr. Doolittle is no beggar; he is more like a con artist that utilizes his amusing monologues and provocative directness to get what he wants. Shaw could have allowed Mr. Doolittle’s character to represent a stereotype of a poor old man. Having said that, a submissive, honest, and ambitious Mr. Doolittle would not serve to provide any comic relief. The illogical idiosyncrasies, speech, and habits of Mr. Doolittle ask the audience to forego their sentiments of how a certain class should act for the sake of seeing how a unique individual adapts to their circumstances.

Updated: Apr 19, 2023
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Character Manipulation In The Novel Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw. (2022, Apr 21). Retrieved from

Character Manipulation In The Novel Pygmalion George Bernard Shaw essay
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