In some ways, Doolittle confirms the social stereotype that the poor are undeserving because they are lazy. Doolittle only works when he has to, otherwise he ‘touches pretty nigh everyone for money.’ However his attitude to money once again challenges the middle class view. When Higgins offers him £10 rather than £5 he says that ‘five pounds is a lot of money, it makes a man feel prudent-like.’ This suggests how Doolittle sees large amounts of money as burdens, and later, after he has come into money, Doolittle calls his inheritance ‘this blasted three-thousand a year.’ This attitude was different to the middle class view that having money meant that you were comfortable and therefore happy. These values and attitudes to life give Doolittle the role of a stereotypical working class man who manages to challenge all the stigmas that the middle class label him with. Shaw has used Doolittle’s attitudes to signpost the differences between the classes, and also to challenge the English class structure, and the stereotypical views of the middle classes.
Doolittle has very strong views about what he calls ‘middle class morality.’ When asked by Pickering if he has any morals, Doolittle replies, ‘can’t afford’em.’ He goes on to say that middle class morality is ‘just an excuse for not giving me anything.’ Doolittle feels that the middle class use their morality as a method of keeping the undeserving poor as poor as they are. Later, when Doolittle has been ‘shoved’ into the middle class, he says that middle class morality is, ‘having to live for others and not myself.’ His money has not made him happy, rather the opposite, and the middle class ‘morals forced upon him have cause him to have to give money to people who insist on working for him. This aspect of Doolittle’s role is important to the play because it would have made the middle class audience question whether or not their money made them happy.
Doolittle also acts as a foil for Higgins, they reinforce each other’s characteristics. For example when the pair first meet, Higgins speaks to Doolittle with the assured authority of a middle class gentleman, ‘what do you want, Doolittle?’ and Doolittle immediately assumes equality, ‘I want my daughter, that’s what I want, see?’ He is not at all subservient, as the middle class audience would expect him to be. His long speeches also suggest that he has taken centre-stage, which Higgins has held up until this point, further emphasising his assumption of equality. Doolittle also reveals Higgins’ delight in unorthodox opinions, as Higgins offers him ten pounds in place of the original request for five. This aspect of Doolittle’s character is important to the play because it allows the audience to see the middle class versus working class conflict.
Doolittle’s role as Eliza’s father allows Shaw to use him as a way to measure Eliza’s development as a lady. Where Eliza has used speech and manners to become a middle class lady, Doolittle has had money and affluence thrust onto him. This difference allows Shaw to make a distinction between the classes. Doolittle’s story suggests that it is money and clothes that make a gentleman, rather than birth and breeding. This is important to the play because it provides a conflict to Eliza’s opinion that the difference between the two classes is not ‘how they speak, but how they are treated.’
Finally, Doolittle is a source of humour in the play. His values and attitudes create a paradoxical humour, because they are the polar opposite to what the middle classes would expect a working class man to think. His juxtaposition of ideas ‘I want a bit of amusement, ‘cause I’m a thinking man,’ also has this effect. His essential confidence and cheerfulness also creates a focus of humour. This humour is important to the play, because, essentially, Pygmalion is a romantic comedy.
Alfred Doolittle’s role represents the working class man; however it also challenges the stereotypes that the middle class assumed about the working class. He acts as a signpost for class distinction, as he is also a foil for Higgins’ character. These functions are important to Pygmalion as a whole, because they allow Shaw to further explore the idea of class distinction, and continue to challenge the English middle class views.
Here's what a teacher thought of this essay
This is an excellent analytical essay that focuses on the question, ranges around the play and considers the contextual factors that influenced Shaw's writing and the way the play would have been received by audiences of the time. To further strengthen the points more direct reference to the text should be included; links between the different Acts in which Doolittle appears could be explored to identify specific differences and similarities of the character before he has money and after he has received it.