Please write a character sketch of Alfred Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. I didn't really get the book.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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If one of Shaw's goals in Pygmalion is to demonstrate that social class is based on nurture not nature (i.e., education not genetics) another is to illustrate that being middle class is not all it is cracked up to be. The happy-go-lucky Alfred Doolittle, Eliza's father, is the chief mouthpiece for the freedoms of a working class lifestyle.

When Alfred first appears, he shows himself to be an inadequate parent out to get what he can from Henry Higgins even if it means blackmail. Later, we meet this impoverished dustman (garbage man) after he has been given money by an American philanthropist. This wealthy man, Ezra D. Wannafeller, bestows a stipend of four thousand pounds a year, a huge income in 1913, on the hapless dustman, all because of Higgins's joking recommendation.

Alfred is a careless hedonist who wants to be left alone to have a good time. He has no interest in middle class morality or taking care of his health and no interest in his relatives. He complains bitterly that now that he is a respectable middle class man he is forced to marry his partner, go to the doctor for any and all ailments, and deal with swarms of relatives who are suddenly interested in him due to his money. He was happier, he says, in his drinking, loafing, ne'er do well former existence in which nobody cared if he lived or died. Now he feels hemmed in and beset on all sides.

Alfred lives in the moment and puts pleasure first. He is lively, irrepressible, and outspoken, and doesn't in any way try to hide who and what he really is.

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    The gregarious Alfred P. Doolittle is the father of the cockney flower girl, Eliza, in George Bernard Shaw's classic play, Pygmalion. Although Doolittle only makes a few appearances in the play, they are virtually all scene-stealers. He is a poor dustman, and he has not been a good father to his daughter. He shows up when he needs money but is perfectly happy as long as he has enough to spend drinking and carousing in the local pub. Although Doolittle complains about "middle-class morality," he is suddenly vaulted into a higher social and economic class when he inherits three thousand pounds yearly (thanks to Henry Higgins' philanthropy connections) to lecture about moral reform. Of course, Doolittle is totally morally unrepentant whether he is wealthy or penniless. Despite his many faults, Doolittle is presented by Shaw as a humorous and sympathetic rascal whose rich characterization becomes a classic of the English theatre. Doolittle's later re-creation in My Fair Lady--perhaps the greatest musical of them all--features two memorable Lerner and Loewe songs: "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me to the Church on Time."

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