To what extent do the character, personality and views of Higgins dominates the play and its other characters?

Categories: CharacterPersonality

Like Higgins, Shaw always insisted on the last word, so he wrote a 21-page “sequel” to Pygmalion describing Eliza’s marriage to Freddy and why she couldn’t have married Henry Higgins. Of course the reason is obvious, a consummation would have been a disaster: Higgins is far too old, a confirmed bachelor and far too much of a dominating man. However, Higgins thinks that the fool Freddy isn’t good enough for Eliza; Freddy is a nonentity singularity when you compare the overbearing verbal presence of Higgins.

“Overbearing” in the sense that Higgins dominates the play and everyone in it, even though it is not really his story. And also overwhelming, as he uses language as a weapon with which to get his own way, to dominate, and even to batter anyone who disagrees or questions with him, for example he disarms and even entertains the crowd in Act one with his remarks on where the geographical homestead of the people are, even Eliza is bowled over by Higgins’s imitation of her cry (Ah-ah-ah-aw-aw-aw-oo).

Pygmalion’s basic premise is that language is a lever and that, Eliza’s English “will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days.” While Higgins can change Eliza’s life, ” Well…in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess.” However from the start we realise that the transformation will not be as easy as Higgins has foretold, and the transformation will be a great deal more radical that anything a few elocution lessons on their own might effect.

Top Writers
Academic Giant
Verified expert
5 (345)
Writer Lyla
Verified expert
5 (876)
Verified expert
4.8 (309)
hire verified writer

If she does not obey orders, Higgins will make her “sleep in the back kitchen among the black beetles, and be walloped by Mrs Pearce with a broomstick” (Act 2). If she’s found out then she “will be taken by the police to the Tower of London, where (her) head would be cut off as a warning to other presumptuous flower girls.”

The play’s physical actions like its verbal time bomb, includes a powerful strain of violence from Higgins, “you take one step in that direction and I will wring your neck” (Act 5). Moreover Higgins orders that Eliza is to be stripped, forcibly scrubbed, and her clothes burnt. Eliza, has no way of turning back, her bridges, like her clothes are burnt on the order of Higgins. Her future is now in Higgins’s hands. At one point in that act, Eliza nearly storms out by Higgins’s heartless insults but is then lured back by Higgins stuffing her mouth with chocolate, suggesting he is tempting and provocative. (This point is furthered by the fact that he tempts Clara to swear)

These actions also show Higgins’s lack of customary middle class social graces-he shows no deference to age, sex, sensitivity or social caste, this is summed up in Act 5 when he says, “I treat a duchess as if I was a flower girl…the question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you have heard me treating anyone else better.” He backs this up by being a bit rude in the Embassy Ball to the host and the hostess, shows no sensitivity to Eliza when he thanked God that the experiment was over and done with when he got back. Indeed Mrs Higgins doesn’t like Henry to be in her at-home day because she knows from experience that he is too eccentric to be presentable in front of the sort of respectable company she is expecting.

Higgins is a confirmed bachelor, and has an air of almost clubbish misogynous views about it, “I find that the moment I let a woman make friends with me…I become selfish and tyrannical.” A self-confessed dominator, and notice the word “let”; he doesn’t let women become emotionally attached to him “under the age of 45” and therefore has to be dominating and repressive to them. In Eliza’s case Higgins is dominating, not because he doesn’t want to be close to Eliza, indeed in the end he admits that he is fond of Eliza, but he is in loco parentis as a teacher, has a paternal right (for 5 pounds) to “improve her mind” with “a lick of strap”, and as he freely admits himself he would be as harsh as 3 fathers in Act 1, when Eliza complained of his dominance. In the last act he casually offers to adopt her, as his daughter so therefore for all the reasons above this proves that his intentions lies in him wanting to be a strict “father” figure in replacement to Alfred’s own lack of parental obligation, and so his need for dominance and trying not to make Eliza conceited, instead of being accused deliberately hurting her sensitivity.

Higgins is a brilliant phonetician and linguist; Eliza passing the bet in the Embassy Ball proves that Higgins has not only traversed the “phonetic stream,” transforming one polar opposite dialect into another but liking his job at the same time, he admits that he is fortunate in making a living from his hobby and as he says himself when Eliza asked him why he did the experiment, Higgins answers “Why, because it was my job”. He finds Pickering’s company mutually beneficial as they both work on their dialects, and he is impatient and bad-tempered at times especially to people whom he considers fools, indeed sometimes he gets caught up in his own self induced verbal excitement, that he sometimes goes over the top. For example, he is clearly rude to Eliza at the beginning of the play and loses his temper over Eliza’s “drinking” taboo (yet he doesn’t conform to middle class social graces as well).

The other dominating aspect of Higgins is that he evaluates other people only in the terms of their phonetics, vocabulary and speech pattern he is not only “violently interested in everything that can be studied as a scientific subject,” but interested in them only as subjects of scientific study. For that reason, when “quite a common girl” is said to at his door, Higgins thinks it is a lucky happenstance that will allow him to show Pickering the way he works. When he sees it is Eliza, he chases her away, for, having learned all he can about the Lisson Grove accent; he cannot see how she can be of any more use to him. Later, his mind seizes upon her as being “no use to anybody but me.” And when Alfred Doolittle is announced, Higgins is not worried about the trouble, but looks forward instead to listening to this new accent. In the at-home act, Higgins can only tell that the Eynsford Hills’ voices are familiar and not recall them, thereby he “remembers” people by their accents and not by their behaviour or anything else.

Higgins is insensitive to the sensibilities of others and in Mrs Higgins’s at-home stresses the point that Freddy is a fool who knows nothing and is about offend the company with a theory that they are all savages who know nothing about being civilized when Eliza comes in. the loosely set-up dichotomy between people and objects (i.e., whether Higgins treats people like people or objects) is brought to a head when Eliza flings his slippers in his face, and complains that she means no more to him than his slippers, “You don’t care. I know you don’t care. You wouldn’t care if I was dead. I’m nothing to you…not so much as them slippers.” Not only does she object to being treated like an object, she goes on to assert herself by saying that she would never sell herself, like Higgins suggests when he tells her she can go get married. Eliza’s criticism comes well-deserved, “Oh, you’ve no feeling heart in you: you don’t care for nothing but yourself.” Even Mrs. Pearce chides him for treating people like objects, “Well, the matter is, sir, that you can’t take a girl up like that as if you were picking up a pebble on the beach.”

Higgins says that, “My idea of a lovable woman is somebody as like you as possible. I shall never get into the way of seriously liking young women: some habits lie too deep to be changed.” The irony is that even though he has no doubt that he can transform Eliza, he takes it as a given that there are natural traits in himself that cannot be changed. He views the changes to himself in regard to speech or phonetics change, in an single minded and almost chauvinistic viewpoint regarding them to be the overriding importance.

However I believe the true dominance of Higgins is the fact that Eliza has changed both in character and personality, when Eliza threatens to become the Frankenstein monster and usurp his dominance by teaching phonetics, he threatens to wring her neck, although moments later he has reinterpreted the rebellion as a triumph of his creative power, “By George…I said I’d make a woman out of you and I have.” So the play is dominated by Higgins, especially with Higgins having the last line, “Pickering! Nonsense: she’s going to marry Freddy. Ha ha! Freddy Freddy!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!”

Cite this page

To what extent do the character, personality and views of Higgins dominates the play and its other characters?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Are You on a Short Deadline? Let a Professional Expert Help You
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7