Transformation of Eliza in Pygmalion


Bernard Shaw has his legacy comes both in terms of literary production as well as the contributions he has made towards social criticism. Shaw has been one of those who wrote critiques of music and literature, but his true talent has been found in elements related to drama. He wrote over sixty plays as well as novels, essays, and short stories. Most of his writings pay considerable attention to some of the social problems facing a democratic society (Maddison 2017). He used comedy to make sure that his audience pays attention to what is being said. He has used his works to comment on issues such as education, religion, marriage, as well as the class system. Shaw’s career is a success given his performance in his five novels, two famous short stories, and other numerous plays such as Pygmalion. As pointed out, Shaw used his work to make comments on social issues affecting individuals (Utell 2016 p.62). He has been known as a Fabian socialist who sought to have his voice heard on some of the important social problems. All his works are not only comedic but also clever as a way of ensuring that he can sneak his message in a way that is entertaining to the audience, which enhances their relationship with his work. He has a way of continuing engagement with his audience intellectually and stimulating dialogue as well as plot lines. There is also the tendency of characters engaging in intellectual debates with one another. He aims to not only entertain his readers but also educate them as well. Education was one of the most important aspects of life around the time. The industrial revolution had just commenced, and different disciplines were emerging. However, it was a time when the social class started taking root as people started amassing more wealth than others did (Mohan and Kumar 2018). Moreover, it was a time when people were characterized by specialization into different aspects of the economy. The benefits of acquiring an education were not only limited to the academic aspects, but it also included the ability to understand life and self, cultivate new awareness, and reaching new insights. Shaw was straightforward and witty especially when one looks at Pygmalion (Maddison 2017). Shaw wants his characters to speak on some of the topics that he wants to touch on. For instance, in expounding on the number of ways through which English can be spoken, Shaw uses Eliza’s accent, Higgins’s cynical reason, and Doolittle’s strange charm. The enlightenment that comes with education as was important at the time can be seen through Eliza’s experiences as she went through some drastic changes in the social status. Education has a way of transforming one’s life by having a sense of self-awareness.


Education was seen as one of the ways through which one would have attained a middle-class status (Moreno-Alcántara, 2016). With the sponsorship as well as the guidance of Colonel Pickering, Eliza is transformed from a common flower vendor into an elegant duchess who is admired by everyone (Mohan and Kumar 2018). With the transformation she attains, she can deal with the emotional and dauntless pride by raising her confidence through self-awareness. The importance of education and instructions are evident in the transformation (Sharma and Panday 2018.

Education of Eliza as the source of transformation is aimed at changing visible speech. Sight and sound are targeted through the use of visible speech. The transformation of sight and sound in terms of appearance and speech is evident in Eliza as the external transformations that come through education. However, Eliza also transforms in other forms of self-respect (Mohan and Kumar 2018). As her tutor, Higgins fails to understand that although the outward transformation was the target of the education, other aspects of human beings also grow. In particular, the real transformation occurs after the ambassador’s party when she is able to stand against Higgins’s treatment. At this point, Eliza is not just a duchess but also an independent lady. This explains why Higgins starts seeing her as worthy of his admiration and not as an inferior character as he had in the beginning (Thadani 2016 p.111). The real education that Eliza gains is in understanding that what matters is how she is treated and not how she behaves and she had to stand up to Higgins who constantly viewed her as a flower girl.

Eliza appears in three different images. She is first seen as a flower girl, then she becomes a lady with a noble accent coupled with good manners, and then as an independent woman who has dignity and admiration of others in the society (Moreno-Alcántara, 2016). Often, education in the context of transformation can be said to be a quasi-magical force that is capable of transforming one to prosperity (Mohan and Kumar 2018). From the linguistic approach, Eliza was able to attain considerable dominance in spheres of autonomy and awareness by combining corpus linguistics as well as close reading. The change in her language, speech, and vocabulary as the text moves on indicates the transformation that education can provide to an individual (Thadani 2016:113).

It is evident that Eliza goes through a complete transformation from her appearance, manners, and way of speaking. In the beginning, Eliza is presented as a poor flower girl who does not take frequent baths and has a poor accent that is a characteristic of a lower class. The name Pygmalion reminds people of the ancient myth (Matthews, 2017). Pygmalion fell in love with a statue that had made He keeps praying that life is granted to it, which finally happened when a living girl Galatea comes into being. On her part, Eliza undergoes a transformation from a flower girl to a graceful lady. The transformation of Eliza can be equated to that of a stone of perfect beauty. Henry Higgins is Pygmalion while Eliza is Galatea. Higgins teaches Eliza the ways of speaking English and also shapes her character to fit in the middle-class morality (Lakhdari 2017).

Before Eliza encountered Mr. Higgins, she is presented as a dirty but a caring girl. During the time she spent with Higgins and Pickering, she learned that even though those around her were harsh, they were doing all they can for her and she had to respect her. In Act 1, the reader is introduced to the rich of London, but Eliza is presented as being poor. For instance, Eliza is seen crawling in the dirt to look for the money that is thrown down by Higgins. It is now that Eliza understands that she can now ask Higgins for helping to attain her dream. She takes a job at the flower shop, a job that she is not visually or phonetically suited.

Education is a form of enlightenment and in the play Pygmalion, education is presented as a tool used for the emancipation of those in the working class (Abbas and Awan 2016 pg.14). Eliza is uprooted, and she has to give up her feature. Her language is linked to her identity. She can find a new identity through education (Utell 2016 p.69). Through language training, Eliza has been able to undergo a transformation that shows that education is essential in dealing with social distinctions such as age, accents, and class issues. Pygmalion can be termed as a complex work of art that addresses many themes in line with society. The education of Eliza takes center stage. She can rise from ignorance and darkness. She can attain spiritual light through some of the successive self-realization, illumination, and social identity. Eliza is introduced as a person who is ignorant and speaks in a language that can only be understood by those of her class.

The process of education comes as a difficult venture for Eliza at the start. She has to be changed in character through cleaning, dressing, and scrubbing as she was described as one who did not take baths (Reynolds 2016: 2). As she progresses in her education, Eliza comes to understand that the differences that exist in a flower girl are not based on how she behaves but on how she is treated. When it comes to the third act, Eliza’s progress is tested (Abbas and Awan 2016 pg.14). She is presented as one who is dressed as a lady, behaves like a lady, and everyone admires her. Although the Eliza the reader sees in Act III is different from the one in Act I, but her education is not yet complete as she is not yet able to speak in a way that does not betray her poor past. Higgins teaches Eliza how to pronounce English correctly, use fine manners, and dress in an elegant manner. After six months, Eliza is taken to a party held by the ambassador, and she can pass off as a duchess with her lady-like manners in the display.

While being educated especially in phonetics, her self-awareness improves as her soul is awakened from her spiritual darkness to light. The possibilities of her soul have been developed immensely through education (Matthews, 2017). Education has also given her a social identity and cannot return to her old self. The education that Eliza attains not only makes her a lady but she is also awakened, and she gains self-confidence (Utell 2016 p.69). It is also through education that she attains an identity and belongingness.

Much of the play is based on a divided class system. The playwright believed that the success of a person should not be based on the limitations of class, speech, and status. Researchers argue that his connection with the Fabian society that was advocating for an equal and just society (Reynolds 2016: 246). The cruel and insulting comments made by Higgins on Eliza’s appearance are of importance. Eliza’s shabbiness at the start of the play not only signifies the transformation that occurs but it also indicates Eliza’s lower class (Matthews, 2017). The ignorance at the start of the play that Eliza had because of being in unfamiliar situations comes to an end of the play. She has gained confidence in giving her a new spirit to argue her points and defend herself (Utell 2016 p.71). For instance, the fearful Eliza depicted in Act I changes as she can confront Higgins in regards to his insensitivity towards her (Abbas and Awan 2016 pg.14). This is when she says, “I’m not dirt under your feet.” Therefore, she was not ready to continue living in his house, as he was not ready to respect her as a duchess.


Pygmalion is a play that shows a great change in Eliza ranging from her status, speech, character, and appearance. The play was written at a time when more people were taking an interest in education, and it was seen as a way to attain self-awareness. The playwright wants to pass the message that one’s accent and status are not determinants of success. Eliza was able to liberate herself through education. The education was not only aimed at enabling her to speak well but also to enable a change in character and appearance. The self-awareness that Eliza attains helps her become a duchess from the poor appearance she had depicted at the start of the play. Although the path to attaining education was not easy for Eliza, she was able to undergo a spiritual transformation that culminated in a change in appearance, speech, character, and status. Overall, education is not only meant to change the academic aspects of a person but also other aspects that characterize an individual. The transformation is against the class system that was characteristic of the society at the time. The community was divided based on class, and those in the poor class did not interact harmoniously with the rich as evidenced by Higgins relationship with Eliza at the start. The prejudice is what Shaw is trying to fight by arguing that one can attain success through education.


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Sharma, S. K. and Panday, S. P., 2018. Contest of Patriarchal Training and Female Sensibility in Vijay Tendulkar’s’ Encounter in Umbugland’ and Bernard Shaw’s’ Pygmalion.’ IJELLH (International Journal of English Language, Literature in Humanities)6(12), pp.12-12.

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Utell, J., 2016. Adaptation and Sound in Pygmalion: The Subject of the Voice. Literature/Film Quarterly44(1), pp.60-75.

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