How important is the role of Colonel Pickering in Shaw's Pygmalion?

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Colonel Pickering is not terribly important to the main plot of Shaw's Pygmalion, which centers on Eliza's transformation and Higgins's commentary. The transformation of Eliza from a disenfranchised, impoverished young woman to a seeming "Lady" illustrates the class snobbery and economic injustice pertaining in Britain in the Edwardian era.

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Colonel Pickering is not terribly important to the main plot of Shaw's Pygmalion, which centers on Eliza's transformation and Higgins's commentary. The transformation of Eliza from a disenfranchised, impoverished young woman to a seeming "Lady" illustrates the class snobbery and economic injustice pertaining in Britain in the Edwardian era.

However, Pickering does function meaningfully in two ways. First, as a scholar of dialect himself, he gives Higgins an audience by which Shaw can express his own views. Without a sympathetic ear, much of Higgins's pronouncements might seem out of place. Similarly, Pickering is clearly a decent fellow, and his tolerance of Higgins's eccentricities and his respect for Higgins's work gives the audience a perspective that softens their response to Higgins. Pickering filters potential objections to the theories espoused and the actions practiced.

Pickering also softens Higgins's approach to Eliza, a young woman with whom the audience must sympathize. Pickering makes the bizarre undertaking of transforming a flower girl into a respectable British woman tenable. His kindness allows all to go along with the bet and, therefore, the plot.

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In many ways, Colonel Pickering is a viewpoint character for the audience of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. While he is knowledgeable about language, being the author of a major text on Sanskrit, he does not let his intellectual curiosity take over his life or predominate over his sense of ethics and human sympathy. Unlike Higgins, he sees Eliza as a person as well as an experiment. Eliza says that while Higgins taught her to make the correct sounds of upper class English, it was Pickering who taught her what it meant to be a lady by treating her like one. He is the ideal of the English gentleman in the play, and serves as a model against whom we can judge the rest; thus he is quite important.

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