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The Suppression Of Women In Pygmalion

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Twentieth century Britain is dubbed the Victorian era in which the woman is just the female of humanity, and that they have certain things to do in society. It is socially accepted that women care solely for the children, the house, the cooking and the cleaning and the men are the breadwinners and disciplinarians. Writer, Bernard Shaw, who was "dedicated to tearing down what he saw as the oppressive veil of Victorian ideal of womanhood-that women are self-sacrificing, pure, noble, and passive" (2215). Damrosch, Dettmar, and Wicke the editors of The Longman Anthology of British Literature argue that Shaw designates the excitement, vigor, and advancement behind women who have exploded out the confines of domestic duty and into the work force of Britain by sidelining them with the 'newest ideas'. However, Shaw is suppressing women; the main character in Pygmalion is Eliza Doolittle is a poor, young woman and Professor Higgins is influenced by a bet to turn into a fine young woman by teaching her to speak correctly. Although Higgins is giving her the chance to learn how to speak like a lady, it is not through grammar one moves through social classes but by connections and hard work to gain money. By giving Eliza the gift of grammar, Higgins says she could get a job in a flower shop and pursue her dreams from there. However, Higgins is forcing her to pretend to become a typical Victorian lady; one who courts and then marries a gentlemen like Freddy and stays at home conforming to the Victorian ideals of womanhood.

Pygmalion introduces Eliza as a poor flower girl, hurrying for shelter against the rain. While under a music hall awning for shelter, she interacts with a number of people, including Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering. Higgins is able to pin point where every one under the awning was born by the dialect they speak in. He is appalled by the sound of Eliza's speech and says,

You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English

that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir,

in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an

ambassador's garden party. I could even get her a place as

lady's maid of shop assistant, which requires better English.


Shaw intends to bring Eliza up the social ladder and break the ideal Victorian woman by Higgins coaching her in speech and etiquette. Pronunciation is the object that will enforce admiration or cause disapproval; that will produce esteem or end friendship; that will lock the door or make them fly open. Eliza is transformed into a proper lady and accepted into high society because of her outward appearance and articulate speech not for who she really is on the inside, a poor flower girl.

Appearance is just as important as speech to groom Eliza into a well brought up woman. Mrs. Pearce tells her, "Well, don't you want to be clean and sweet and decent like a lady? You know you can't be a nice girl inside if you're a dirty slut outside. I want to change you from a frowzy slut to a clean respectable girl fit to sit with the gentlemen in the study" (2233). Mrs. Pearce implies that appearances and first impressions are what high society is all about, if you do not have what it takes the first time around, you will never get a second chance to redeem yourself. Once Eliza is clean, she wants to take a taxi to show off in front of her street friends. But Higgins argues this saying, "Besides, you shouldn't cut you old friend now that you have risen in the world. That's what we call snobbery" (2242). Eliza has not risen in the world as Higgins said; she has only put on clean clothes and taken a bath. Also, Higgins is implying that Eliza may not be a lady for very long. Once she is presented at the garden party and passed off for a lady to outsiders, she is cast away and Higgins wants to think nothing of her. Bernard Shaw and his character Higgins know that Eliza can never truly be a lady; she is stuck in a limbo of social classes. Either Eliza gets a job in a flower shop speaking like a lady or she marries into high society with Freddy and conforms to the Victorian ideals of women.

The true test of Eliza's learning to behave and speak like a lady is at the Embassy in London. She is dressed "in opera cloak, evening dress, diamonds, fan, flower and all accessories" (2253). The Hostess of the party demands her linguist Nepommuck to find out who Eliza truly is. They come to the conclusion that she is Hungarian, not English because she



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