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What Drove Eliza To Change? What Does It Mean To Be High Class?

1499 words - 6 pages

In George Bernard Shaw’s didactic, Victorian play Pygmalion, Linguistics Professor Henry Higgins’s perceptive ears are offended by the sound of Eliza’s lowly, Cockney accent, so he wishes to change it into a flawless, pleasant voice that would blend in among high society. Higgins is a sarcastic and rude character who treats Eliza badly throughout most of the play, sometimes not even acknowledging her presence. This brings up the question of why she tolerates his rudeness. What drove Eliza to change? Change is desired when we face conflicts that must be resolved. Another question this play presents is: What does it mean to be high class? Is it as Henry Higgins says it is, that it is just the proper way of speaking? Can the “right” sociolinguistics or money or heritage give someone high status?
We can wish to change when wanting to improve ourselves, to satisfy others who we hold in esteem, to meet demands placed upon us, but most importantly, a successful change must come from self-motivated reasons. A change forced upon a person is like no change at all. After the pressure, the expectations, the possible threat of that comes with authority, have all been removed, a change can only last if the subject being changed had wanted to be changed in the first place. Initially, she wanted to improve her speaking voice so that she could find a better job, and with a better job, better prospects in every part of her life. She realizes that she can do this with Higgins’s help—she recognizes his expertise in this subject, but he is unwilling to help her until she pays him a high sum that she cannot afford. Higgins’s peer Colonel Pickering’s attention is brought to Eliza’s plight and he feels for her, so he strikes up a wager with Higgins and says that he believes Higgins cannot pass off Eliza as a duchess. The irony here is that Colonel Pickering is much more supportive of Eliza than is Henry Higgins, but that Colonel Pickering voices his belief that Eliza is not going to be able to be passed off as a duchess. However, Higgins’s belief that he can improve her accent is not rooted in his opinion of Eliza’s capabilities, but rather his own. Higgins would not back down from a challenge and admit that he has his faults and limitations. In fact, his comments about others are often filled with derision and he has an air of haughtiness and complacency about him. The desire of Eliza’s to climb the social ladder is understandable and thus easily relatable. By this point in the Victorian era, people could rise up from their original station in society, which was determined by birth, by working hard and following societal convention. A core argument behind many philosophies and religions is to improve the followers, to enrich their lives—this is simply what most people want for themselves. Revealing this desire of Eliza’s helps the audience to identify with her, which foreshadows the fact that she is the protagonist. Perhaps having Professor Colonel Pickering as a...

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