What is the message of Pygmalion?

Some important messages in Pygmalion are that upper-class feelings of superiority are foolish because social class is an external affair and that upper-class status does not necessarily denote kindness and goodness.

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Pygmalion offers a critique of the Victorian English society, specifically the distinction between the upper and lower classes. Though English society of the time had a rigid social structure, Shaw demonstrates the foolishness in upper-class feelings of superiority: for one thing, Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl, is able to perfectly imitate and pass for a member of the wealthy elite. For another, some members of the upper classes, such as Higgins, are shown to be lacking in morality. Estimations of a person, Shaw implies, should be based not on money or clothing—or even accent, as Higgins seems to believe—but on kindness and goodness.

Another important message of the play is actually more psychological and has to do with the Pygmalion effect. The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon that explains how one's expectations can influence one's performance. Eliza says to Pickering that she's thankful to him for always treating her like a lady, even when she clearly wasn't, because that was the main reason why she began to respect herself and have more confidence. In fact, his belief in her was what motivated her to really learn how to behave and how to properly express herself.

But do you know what began my real education? ...Your calling me Miss Doolittle that day when I first came to Wimpole Street. That was the beginning of self-respect for me. And there were a hundred little things you never noticed, because they came naturally to you. Things about standing up and taking off your hat and opening doors ...

You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.

Thus, Shaw reminds the readers to always give people a chance and to believe in their potential to become someone better, as this will help them achieve their goals.

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