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What do we learn of Shaw's attitude towards class from "Pygmalion" ?

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Introduction

What do we learn of Shaw's attitude toward class from the play "Pygmalion"? George Bernard Shaw was born in Dublin in 1856. He moved to London at the age of twenty one where he began to meet the earliest British socialists. In 1884, he became one of the founder members of the Fabian Society, which promoted equality between people whatever their background or class. Shaw was a prolific writer of novels and plays, with "Pygmalion" first being performed at His Majesty's theatre in London in 1914. This play tells us a huge amount about Shaw's attitude to the British class system in Edwardian times. The plot follows the attempts of Professor Henry Higgins to teach Eliza Doolittle, a street flower seller to pass for a Duchess in six months. Early twentieth century Britain was a much divided society, being split into upper, middle and working classes. These divisions were largely based on wealth, with huge variations between the wealthy upper class and the sometimes very poor working class. ...read more.

Middle

These things are only a penny a bunch". Higgins simply sees Eliza as a project. His desire to pass her off as a Duchess is not for her benefit, but to prove a point and to promote himself as a phonetics expert. Even Mrs Pearce (Higgins' Housekeeper) looks down on Eliza, calling her "a common girl, sir, very common indeed". This shows that Shaw was correct in his assumptions about the prejudices against the lower classes- even evident from the working class servants, who obviously believed themselves to be a cut above the street sellers. Shaw tries to show that everyone has aspirations. Eliza says she wants to be "a lady in a flower shop", and with a bath and some clean clothes, she begins to be viewed in a different light. Shaw depicts Eliza as a poor girl but with morals, "I'm a good girl I am; and I won't pick up no free -and-easy ways". ...read more.

Conclusion

He feels uncomfortable about having to conform to "middle-class morality". The situations that Eliza and Mr Doolittle find themselves in reflect the amount of social climbing going on at the time. Can people change class? Eliza's desire to become a flower-shop lady at the start of the "experiment" ends with her feeling exploited, "Oh! If I could only go back to my flower basket! Why did you take my independence from me? I'm a slave now, for all my fine clothes". This highlights the foolishness of snobbery and pretending to be someone you are not. The person inside is what is important, not fine clothes and clipped vowels. George Bernard Shaw uses "Pygmalion" to point fun at the British Class system. He does this in a light and entertaining way which means that the message of the play is very clear. Eliza learns that it is not class that matters, but a person's integrity. Equality is achieved at the end of the play when Eliza says she will marry Freddy. This shows that society would be a far better place if equality in life were possible. . ...read more.

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