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Eliza Doolittle and Her Problems
At the outset one has to understand that Eliza Doolittle is a character created by George Bernard Shaw, a famous English playwright and to understand her we have to start with Shaw. He was the third and the youngest child of George Carr Shaw, and Lucinda Shaw. He was supposed to have been part of the Protestant group that was rising in England at that time, but he did not succeed in life. He was first prematurely pensioned off from his civil servant job and then he became a grain merchant. Even in that he was not successful and that led to George Bernard Shaw being raised in an atmosphere of genteel poverty. This was felt to be more insulting by him than being poor.
Yet Shaw developed well and became well versed in music, art, and literature. This was due to the influence of his mother, as also his frequent trips to the National Gallery of Ireland. This made him determined to become a writer and ended up being in London with his mother and elder sister. In his early years, he suffered a lot from frustration and poverty. Though he failed as a novelist in the 1880s, he found his own footings during this period. He became a vegetarian, a Socialist, a very good orator, a polemist and a playwright of unknown quality. He was also a part of the group that formed Fabian Society in 1884, and this was a middle class group of Socialists that tried to transform the English society. This was not to be achieved by revolution but through the process of permeation of the political and intellectual life in the country. (Shaw, George Bernard. Britannica Nobel Prizes)
Among the plays written by Shaw, the most liked and best received by the general public, is Pygmalion. This is the play featuring Eliza Doolittle. This is also probably the play with the greatest significance. The film has been made into films several times, and has also been converted into a musical. This has made it possible for Shaw to become the only person to have won both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Academy Award. He had written the screenplay for the 1938 film. In this film version, Shaw wrote the part of Eliza Doolittle for the then famous actress Mrs. Campbell, though that did not stop Shaw from continuing with his famous affair with her at the same time. (George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950)
The name Pygmalion comes from a Greek origin which probably dates back to Phoenician. This is an extinct language of a group of an ancient people of Semitic origin, and was one of the world's leaders in trade at that time. The initial shows of the play used to shock present audiences by the use of a swear word by Doolittle. There is humor in the play from the ability of Eliza to speak very nicely but the usage of her language made it clear that she did not understand what she was saying. Thus in reply to a question on whether she was walking home, she replied "Not bloody likely!" (Pygmalion: absolute astronomy) At the back of understanding this play one has to keep in mind that Shaw was personally highly interested in the saving of time that could be effected if a new set of alphabets were introduced for the English language. He was not very much interested in the pronunciations. He mentioned that the English wrote different spellings like sweat and wheat with totally different pronunciations as was also the case with Whet and sweet. He believed that there was a requirement in the English language for 42 distinctive sounds and that required 18 vowels and 24 consonants. (The Miraculous Birth of Language: Summary)
Now let us get back to Pygmalion and Mrs. Doolittle and this is a play built on the conventions and eccentricities of English. Yet the funny part is that the play was first staged in German than in English. The play begins with a rainy evening in London in the early part of the twentieth century. An opera has just ended and this has let a number of viewers on the street. Since it is raining some of them are assembled at St. Paul's Church for protection from the rain. There we have Eliza Doolittle, a girl of cockney origin trying to sell flowers to the people passing. She gets a warning that some gentleman is trying to note down all the words that she is saying. She wonders whether the individual is a policeman, but the person mentions that he is just interested in the sound of what she is saying. He confirms the truth of what he is saying by pointing our some people in the crowd and pointing out the origins of some people by just listening to their speech. He is Henry Higgins, and a celebrated linguist. Thus the first problem that Eliza Doolittle is having of seeing some person listening to her. The problem is rather simple and also solved very simply. The problem could have ended there but Eliza went on to meet Mr. Higgins at his house the next day and thus increasing the problems of Eliza. (Stangl, Pygmalion)
To solve her own problems, Eliza went to meet Mr. Higgins at this home laboratory and introduced herself as Liza Doolittle. There she learnt about Higgins giving lessons to newly rich people from the working class and who wanted to cover up their origins. This gives her and idea, and she wants to cover up her own origins and get a job as a shop girl at a florist. She thus views her own origin as a problem and feels that Higgins is the solution. At the same time, the other individual present at the time, Mr. Pickering offers to pay the costs.
This will lead to her getting the lessons, but whether that is solution to her problems or not is a matter to be seen later. The problem is compounded by the fact that Higgins makes a promise to "make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe." (Stangl, Pygmalion) The problem as viewed by Eliza is that she just has an accent that makes it difficult for her to get a job at a genteel place, but her manners are not inferior to others, and still she can not afford to get on with her present accent. She also feels that even others could not get along if they were as poor as her. This point is reinforced by her father who also thinks that he is one of the undeserving poor. Being poor means that the middle class feel, they deserve any of the benefits that are available in society.
He feels that he is the same as a middle class man and eat the same materials, but only drinks a lot more than him. He also ends up paying the same charges as the middleclass men, and according to him the difference of being in middle class is that they do not want to give him anything. He does not pretend to be in the situation "deserving" and he likes the way he is situated, but Eliza Doolittle does not want to be in the same situation. He does not want to take advantage of his own daughter. According to him he has brought up his own daughter and does not want to take advantage of her. He also realized that once she became a flower girl, then she would not be in a situation to sell anything as she would be a lady, but it is expected that she will get better treatment. (Stangl, Pygmalion) Thus it can be seen that this 'problem' of Eliza is likely to give rise to other problems in future.
In literature the story of Eliza Doolittle is considered to be a romance though this is not apparent. This feeling comes as when there is any romance, at the end the heroine gets married to the hero. In this case, Higgins is a domineering individual and is interested only in his teaching, and domination of the people he meets. On the other hand, it is up to Eliza to decide whether she wants to marry him, and then she has to act in a position that she will be accepted by Higgins as his wife. On the other hand Higgins is the sort of a person who is determined that he will not marry, and if she really wanted to get married to him then she would have to pursue him in a devoted manner. It is a decision that she has to make, and at the same time she has to decide whether she really has the freedom to choose. It also depends a lot on her upbringing and income. The problem of income becomes very important at the end of youth and there is no security of livelihood. In that case,…[continue]
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