What is the purpose of the rain shower in Pygmalion?

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The rain at the start of Act I of Shaw's Pygmalion is a convenient and convincing device that allows the conversations and interactions between Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins and other characters to be believable.

Rain showers encourage people who know each other, and even some who don't, to huddle close together under shelter to avoid getting wet. This close proximity encourages conversation as perfect strangers are now privy to one another's dialogue, just because they happen to be seeking a refuge from the rain in the same place at the same time. In Pygmalion, Mrs. Eynsford Hill and her daughter both question Eliza with a familiarity that could possibly be explained by this proximity. Mr. Higgins hovers in the background, noting every detail of the exchange, and his lurking may seem less suspicious because of the cover of the rain.

Though rain is a frequent phenomenon in Britain, the choice to begin the play with a rainstorm would not have been a casual one. Though only Shaw can explain the purpose with any accuracy, the reasons above may explain the purpose of the rain as a literary device within the play.

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To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a rain shower is just a rain shower. It does not have any great symbolic significance. England has what is known as a temperate maritime climate, similar to that of Seattle or Portland, and it rains frequently.

Within the plot structure of the play, it makes a convenient way to introduce us to several of the main characters of the play in a way that is not overly contrived. In normal circumstances, a poor flower girl such as Eliza would not have the opportunity for protracted conversation with members of the upper class.

Also, for Shaw to illustrate Higgins' skill at dialects, rather than just telling us about it, we need to see him identifying accents. This needs to be done in a setting where he will encounter a random group of strangers, something the shower precipitates, as it were. 

Finally, the circumstances enable Shaw to show us the amiable but ineffectual nature of Freddy. 

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