Eliza doolittle in bernard shaw’s pygmalion; running the gamut of shavianism

on Jul, 31, 2013.

Irish dramatist and Nobel Prize winner, George Bernard Shaw succeeded in leaving an imperishable impact on the history of modern literature. Shaw’s literary legacy is an inexhaustible well inasmuch as it remains open to interpretation from myriad perspectives.

Most notably, Pygmalion, one of his most engrossing plays, stirs on a mix of gripping dialogues, complex characters, and an enthralling plotline to stage the “metamorphosis” of young Eliza Doolittle from a flower girl to a duchess punctuated with a tension between the dynamics of artistic creation and self-creation. Eliza Doolittle being, therefore, the focal point of this masterpiece, is befitting to a plethora of readings.

Indeed, the character of Eliza was extensively read within mythological, psychological, linguistic and feminist frameworks[1]. Nevertheless, these apprehensions fall into at least two conundrums: first, totality; by omitting other aspects constituting Eliza’s character, and second, the failure to see that Bernard Shaw ‘conjured up’ the character of Eliza Doolittle to be an eternal icon of his aesthetics, a vehicle of  his theories ad infinitum.

As far as I am concerned, reducing a character to only one dimension is not only overlooking the other facets fundamental to its study, but also denigrating the writer’s artistry in creating his characters who generally offer insights into his ideology and intentions. Totality, in this case, is staggeringly superficial.

Notwithstanding the merits of previous interpretations, my reading of Eliza Doolittle’s character rejects totality and, hence, considers Eliza as resulting from the amalgamation of several features falling in line with Shavianism.

Looking afresh at this character, my objective is to canvass what appears to me to be innovatory and arresting. Consequently, this is a modest hope for freeing Eliza Doolittle, and Shaw’s Pygmalion, as a matter of fact, from the shackles of traditional totalizing readings reducing the character to one single dimension, and also for crystallizing the relationship between this character and the aesthetics of its creator.

Hence, my paper aims at advancing a comprehensive approach to the character of Eliza Doolittle as “running the gamut of Shavianism”, that is to say, as “includ[ing], express[ing], or experienc[ing] all the different things, or a wide variety of ”[2] Shavian hallmarks. This appears to me as a new, and hopefully, fruitful line of inquiry. It aims at resisting humdrum interpretation by probing deep into the analysis of Eliza so as to dispel some of the mystery enshrouding Shaw’s drama.

In fact, this paper provides a thorough analysis of Eliza Doolittle as multi-dimensional; a character encapsulating a social product for she is a mere social pawn. Then, my reading moves on to view Eliza as a human enterprise manipulated by Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering to quench their scientific greed. Thirdly, Eliza is evaluated as a Shavian formal modus operandi of dénouement. Finally, several Shavian ideas are echoed explicitly through Eliza being his mouthpiece for evincing his theories of Feminism, Fabian Socialism, and finally, “Creative Evolution” and the “Life Force”. Eventually, the purpose is to offer a fresh interpretation of the character of Eliza by piecing these features together in a novel configuration.

By means of assemblage, the character of Eliza Doolittle emerges as a breadth of Shavianism, a Shavian mosaic teeming with his philosophies of art, society, and life in general. The cumulative result is to view Eliza as a luminary of Shavianism; his instrument to traverse times.


[1] These are certainly not the only theories the literary critics drew on when interpreting the character of Eliza Doolittle. However, I have chosen to mention these approaches because they are the most relevant to my analysis.

[2] Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary,2003.

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