Please comment on the following quote from Act 5 of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.In Act 5 Higgins states: "The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other...

Please comment on the following quote from Act 5 of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

In Act 5 Higgins states: "The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having the same manner for all human souls: ..." How does this statement help the reader to understand Higgins better?

Expert Answers
accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very good quote to select to consider the character of Higgins in this play. Note the context of this quote is the way in which Eliza protests that Pickering "treats a flower girl as if she were a duchess." Pickering has shown her that the outer transformation of people is not important. Thus, the way she talks and dresses is insignificant in terms of changing her. What is important, and what secures the transformation, is how a person is treated by others. Note Eliza's complaint:

I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.

In response to this charge, Higgins protests that actually this is unfair. He treats everybody the same, regardless of their appearance or position in life. Higgins summarises the way he treats everyone in the following pithy comment: short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another.

Thus we can see that Higgins is presented as an irrascible, arrogant and provocative individual, who has treated Eliza badly, as she observes. However, the real question is asked by Higgins:

The question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you ever heard me treat anyone else better.

Higgins looks upon everybody else with equal annoyance and arrogance. Eliza is no exception. The only reason he manages to get away with this is that he is at his core a good and harmless individual.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Excellent answer above. Higgins, in many ways, resembles Shaw himself. He represents the tradition of science, which sees all people as equal, as against conventional society, in which people are distinguished by money and inherited position. Higgins is concerned with the science of linguistics, and can train Eliza to speak in the accent of a duchess, but cannot actually help her understand the nuances of social relationships, to which he himself is utterly oblivious. Higgins' analysis of language and social class functions satirically to skewer the pretensions of British society, in which people were judged to a great degree by whether they had the "right accent." "Pygmalion" also addresses nineteenth-century theories of Indo-European philology in which the character of people was assumed to be determined to a certain degree by racial characteristics attributed to linguistic groups. In showing that Pickering transforms Eliza more than Higgins, Shaw is supporting a theory of cultural and environment influence on character against the racial theories of "folk" character. Shaw himself was quite interested in linguistic questions, and for many years was very involved in an unsuccessful crusade to simplify and rationalize English spelling.

biedak | Student

Thank You so much.  :)