The Metamorphosis of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw
The benefits of acquiring an education are not limited to the academic aspects often associated with it. Part of the edification it bestows includes being enabled to reach new insight, being empowered to cultivate a new awareness, and being endowed with a new understanding of life and of self. In Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle experiences this type of enlightenment as the result of undergoing a drastic change in social status. With the sponsorship and guidance of Colonel Pickering, Eliza, a common street flower vendor, receives phonetic instruction from Professor Henry Higgins and is transformed into an elegant and refined "duchess" (817). Eliza Doolittle is highly emotional and has dauntless pride; however, her level of confidence increases as she gains a new perception of herself and a new outlook on life through the instruction she receives.
Although in the beginning of the play Eliza Doolittle possesses a dignity of self that has persevered despite the lowliness of her social status as a "draggletailed guttersnipe" (817), she has little confidence and a low sense of worth. By describing Eliza's emotional states throughout the play, Shaw illuminates the evolution of Eliza's character. In the opening act when Eliza receives the impression that she is being "charged" for "taking advantage of [a] gentleman's proximity" to persuade him to "buy a flower," Shaw describes that she becomes "terrified" and claims, "I ain't done nothing wrong . . . I've a right to sell flowers . . ." (806). Eliza's initial feeling of fear points to a momentary sense of self-doubt in her character; however, her solid pride leads her to make a declaration in defense of her reputation: "I'm a respectable girl, so help me . . ." (806). Yet the inferiority of her status plagues Eliza with uncertainty. Shaw describes that Eliza is "hysterical" and "much distressed" (807) as she continues to defend the innocence of her intentions. Eliza copes with the situation in a state of being that is emotional, uncontrolled, wild, and frenzied because she is unsure that she is indeed blameless and irreproachable. Eliza's over-sensitivity is the product of her insecurity. For this reason, being "far from reassured" (807) as Shaw describes, Eliza repeatedly affirms her virtue making statements like "I'm a good girl, I am" (808). Although Eliza asserts her pride proclaiming that "[her] character is as good to [her] as any lady's" and that "[she had] a right to be [where she liked]," Shaw describes that she does so "with feeble defiance" (810) which indicates the weak level of confidence she possessed.
By the middle of the play Eliza's self-image has been altered through the enlightenment that comes to her as the result of the education she receives from Henry Higgins and the mannerisms she learns from Colonel Pickering. Eliza gains self-esteem by the merit of her accomplishments, but her...