What is the myth behind Pygmalion?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another myth that exists in Pygmalion, in the figurative sense, at least, is Professor Higgins belief that appearance can create a reality.  That is, he is convinced that he can "make a duchess of this draggle-tailed guttersnipe," he can transform Eliza Dootlittle into a lady.  Unfortunately, Higgins does not realize what another Englishman, W. Somerset Maugham did,

....men and women are not only themselves, they are also the region in which they are born, ...the games they played as children, the old wives' tales they overheard,...and the God in Whom they believe.

For, once the transformation of appearance has been made in Eliza and she can speak well and has the necessary manners for higher society, she is yet displaced. Being not clearly a part of any particular class, Eliza no longer knows who she truly is.  Therefore, despite the belief of one of the characters of Dean Koontz, who declares, "Perception is reality," Eliza finds no reality in her reflection that presents her with what appears to be a lady--only myth.

rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In classical mythology, particularly in Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a sculptor who, viewing most women as corrupt and insufficiently pure, crafted a statue of a woman out of ivory. The statue was so beautiful that he fell in love with it, and prayed to the goddess of love, Venus, that the statue might become a real woman. This prayer came true, and Pygmalion married the woman, with whom he had several children. In George Bernard Shaw's play entitled Pygmalion, Henry Higgins, a linguistics scholar, "gives life" to Eliza Doolittle by teaching her to act and speak in a manner consistent with refined society. The theme of Pygmalion was actually a common one in Victorian society, as well as Western literature as a whole, with Shaw's version being a particularly enduring and famous variant.