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Contradictions Of Character In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion

973 words - 4 pages

“Manners are the happy way of doing things” according to Ralph Waldo Emerson.  According to Emerson people use manners as a front to make themselves look better.  Inherently, this will lead to a contradiction of the front and the reality.  One such man who is most concerned with manners is the protagonist of Shaw’s Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins.  Higgins is a man who displays contradictions within his character.  He is in the business of teaching proper manners, although lacks them himself.  In addition, Higgins is an intelligent man, and yet he is ignorant of the feelings of those around him.  Another apparent contradiction is that Higgins’ outer charm serves to hide his bullying nature. He manipulates Eliza and others around him to serve his own purposes, without any regard for her feelings.

            Higgins, a teacher of proprietary manners, lacks those very manners which others pay to learn from him.  Ironically, Higgins believes that he is the greatest teacher of manners.  He announces that in “three months [he] could pass [Eliza] off as a duchess.”  Higgins thinks that he can take any lower class girl and pass her off as a duchess.  He truly believes that he is capable of transforming Eliza.  Once the teaching begins, Higgins shows no respect for others in his life.  When he goes to see his mother, she reminds him that “[he] promised not to come on” her days when she is having guests.  He ignores this promise to his mother because he believes that his newest experiment is more important than his mother’s insignificant visitors are.    This behavior continues throughout the course of the experiment, and even after it is over.  Higgins and Colonel Pickering speak about Eliza as if she is a pet or a possession that exists solely for their amusement.  After Higgins and Pickering settle their bet, Higgins reveals that he is relieved and he “thank[s] God that it is over with.”  Higgins is insensitive to the fact that his lessons have become a major part of Eliza’s life.  When Higgins says to Eliza’s face that he is happy the lessons are finished, he is oblivious to the power of his words over her.  Higgins is unaware that Eliza is devastated.  He is bored of teaching manners to her.  His lack of manners is a contributing factor to his separation from other people.

            Even though the Professor is a highly intelligent man, he is completely ignorant of other peoples’ feelings.  Colonel Pickering “came all the way from India to meet [the Professor].”  Pickering will not travel halfway around the world if the Professor is not smart.  Despite his extreme intelligence, Higgins is unaware of the fact that Eliza is a person with real emotions and feelings.  Mrs. Pearce informs...

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