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In the Shavian play Pygmalion, the relationship between the characters of Mrs. Higgins and her son, Higgins, is perhaps one of the most comedic in literature. We come to learn about the relationship in Act Three, where we find Mrs. Higgins, a wealthy woman over sixty, during her "at-home". This means that this is an afternoon for her to receive her friends, write her letters, and maybe even entertain a person or two to tea. This is a proper tradition of a lady of her class.
This being said, we contrast her with her son, and here is where the comedy begins. Her son, Higgins, is the epitome of the black sheep child. He swears, is coarse, does not follow any sort of etiquette, has a cranky attitude, bursts into places without being called, and essentially has been a bachelor for so long that he is not willing to change his ways.
On this note, Mrs. Higgins is, literally, his foil, and her good manners and exquisite tastes make their dynamics totally dysfunctional. During this Act, we can witness some funny instances where Higgins and his mother demonstrate a relationship that resembles a comedic tag team. To Higgins, his mother is certainly "Mom", and he clearly seeks her company every time he feels stressed. Contrastingly, Mrs. Higgins does her best to keep Higgins away, for he embarrasses her and makes her nice home look as coarse as he is. However, it is clear that she loves her son, and that she is past the frustration of trying to change him. That is where the funny dynamics come from, and they are clearly illustrated in their first dialogue:
- MRS. HIGGINS: [dismayed] Henry [scolding him]! What are you doing here to-day? It is my at-home day: you promised not to come. [As he bends to kiss her, she takes his hat off, and presents it to him].
- HIGGINS: Oh bother! [He throws the hat down on the table].
- MRS. HIGGINS: Go home at once.
- HIGGINS: [kissing her] I know, mother. I came on purpose.
- MRS. HIGGINS: But you mustn't. I'm serious, Henry. You offend all my friends: they stop coming whenever they meet you.
- Hence, we see a very unique relationship where the mother is aware of the son's follies and the son is aware of his disconnect with his mother's world. However, far from making this a problem to the plot, Shaw makes this a very comedic element makes us see a lighter side of the stuffy Victorian family life. This is a unique trait of writers such as Shaw, and Wilde, where they basically establish that family life does not have to be yet another social acquaintance, but that mother and son can actually love each other and still accept each other's deeply rooted differences.
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