Discuss the transformation of Eliza.

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teachersage | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Under the tutelage of Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle's accent, dress, and manners change so that she transforms from a working-class Cockney woman into an upper-class English lady. By showing how easily Eliza becomes upper-class by adopting only a few superficial changes, Shaw skewers an ideology that maintains that the upper classes are "innately" superior to the the lower. Even a little education, the play shows, can make a lady out of a flower seller.

But Eliza's transformation goes deeper, and Shaw shows this to be both positive and negative. On the positive side, her acceptance into higher society builds her sense of confidence and self-worth. She rebels and asserts herself against Henry Higgins' verbal abuse, such as his calling her a "squashed cabbage," as well as his careless assumption that she will always function to suit his convenience--and go away as soon as she becomes inconvenient. Henry treats her as a thing: Eliza insists, at the end, on being treated as a human. On the negative side, however, the play points out that by transforming Eliza into a lady, Higgins has left her unfit for any role in society but marriage. Shaw critiques a culture in which a woman's ascent up the class ladder leaves her increasingly useless and dependent. As a working girl selling flowers, Eliza might have been very poor, but at least she could earn her own keep. As a lady, she must marry and rely on a man to support her, for holding a job in that class would be unacceptable for a woman. 

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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    Eliza Doolittle makes the transition from uneducated Cockney flower girl to elegant duchess in George Bernard Shaw's play, Pygmalion. Eliza's transformation from a girl of the streets to a beauty whose manners and appearance inspires awe--from just about everyone except Henry Higgins, that is--is complete, up to the end of the experiment. After Higgins wins his bet, his job is over, and Eliza's allure proves to have worked on everyone except the man who has shaped her new persona. She realizes that her new life has come to a standstill, since she feels she can no longer return to her flowers. However, her capacity for learning and change is still in its infancy, and Eliza still has enormous room to grow. It is Higgins who has reached his limits, and he is the one with a lack of inner growth capabilities. Meanwhile, Eliza discovers that appearances and social graces are not necessarily a means to an end, for in Higgins she sees that perfection is only skin deep. She has been become a lady in nearly every respect, but Higgins still fails to treat her as one. Consequently, her intellectual growth is not a completely happy one since her new independence repels Higgins and, in the end, she sees that he is far from the perfect man. And, in turn, she finds her new identity, her new class status, a mystery as well.

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