Discuss the main idea/theme of the play Pygmalion.

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There is another way of interpreting Eliza Doolittle’s transformation by Professor Higgins.

After she passes Higgins’s test, the Professor and his partner Pickering treat her coldly, not even bothering to congratulate or thank her. Offended, Eliza disappears without saying anything to the two men. When they discover she is in Mrs. Higgins’s home, the Professor is irritated that she is not more grateful for making Eliza into a proper lady.

He sulks and pouts, annoyed that Eliza would expect gratitude after what he sees as the hard work he had to put into changing her ways so that she could play the part of a convincing lady. He continues to mock her, joking about her suggestion that she will marry Freddy and hand over Higgins’s phonetic techniques to his rival. The play ends ambiguously with no clear indication as to what is going to happen to these characters.

Rather than exalting the ability of the lower classes to fit in with the upper classes through hard work, Shaw is making a comment about the frivolity and emptiness of English high society. Eliza thanks Pickering for always treating her like a duchess, even when she is still a lowly flower girl. She says that his treatment of her is what allowed her to really embody a lady. She gained self-respect and belief that she never had before because of Pickering’s kindness and gentility.

Contrary to what Higgins believes, his experiment was successful in spite of him—not because of it. As he walks offstage in the final act, Higgins laughs hysterically about Freddy. The lack of seriousness with which he treats Eliza, a member of the lower class, is indicative of his prejudice and shallowness. Regardless of how much training and education she receives, Higgins will never see Eliza as anything more than a flower girl.

Of course, Shaw fills in the ambiguous ending with a lengthy epilogue that confirms Eliza’s marriage to Freddy and Higgins’s continued judgment.

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Shaw wanted to puncture the idea that genetics or a person's family background "naturally" fitted them to be upper- or lower-class. He believed that people from any class could be born with brains and talent and rise to the top if given the opportunity.

To highlight his idea that lower-class people in England could get ahead if they were given the right education, Shaw centered his play on a lower-class Cockney woman from the slums of east London. Eliza Doolittle has little education, never has had a full bath, wears terrible clothes, and speaks with a Cockney accent. Professor Higgins bets that if he cleans her up, teaches her how to behave, and trains her to speak English with an upper-class accent, he can pass her off in any social group, no matter how grand.

The plan works. With the right accent, manners, and clothes, Eliza Doolittle passes muster among royals and aristocrats. Shaw thus shows that denying lower-class people the opportunity to improve themselves is wrong.

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