In Pygmalion, what effect does Shaw get from referring to the characters in Act I as Mother and Daughter, etc?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

in Act I of Pygmalion, Shaw introduces all the characters, except Freddy, by their descriptive labels rather than by their names, such as The Note Taker for Professor Higgins. This departure from dramatic convention has a couple of effects. The first is that one is amused by the stereotypes being presented: one may be reminded of similar Daughters or Mothers that one knows. As a result, a humorous and comedic tone to the play is set before the curtain even rises, while the audience (and later on the reader) are still looking at the play handbill.

The second effect is to make the three most prominent characters, The Note Taker, The Gentleman, and The Flower Girl, stand out in bold relief, not for the details of their characters such as a symbolic name might provide (e.g., Copperfield), but rather for the particulars of their occupations, since occupation is the central foundation upon which the story is built. There is a third effect produced by Shaw's choice to introduce characters through labels rather than names and it is that a heightened curiosity is produced to see what exactly being a note taker or a gentleman or a flower girl etc. has to do with the story about to unfold: a curiosity to see the relationship between occupation and character and also between occupation and story.