Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw is a novel that can be interpreted to have many different themes. One of these themes is the theme of social classes and manners. The book was written in 1912 and takes place in London at the end of the Victorian Period. Shaw demonstrates what the social hierarchy was like during this time period and he also portrays his feelings on it throughout the book. Shaw shows the differences between the social classes at first, the interactions between people of different classes, and he shows the flaws of this system.
Shaw demonstrates what separated the classes in the book. He main things that were different between the higher classes and the lower classes were the clothing of the person and the manners of the person. In Act 1, a bystander comments on the clothing of Henry Higgins by saying that since his boots were nice, Henry was of a higher class. This shows that one could tell the difference between the classes just by looking at the clothes of the individual. Language was also a difference that was seen between the two classes. In Act 1, Henry Higgins says, “You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter to the end of her days. Well, sir, in three months I could pass that girl off as a duchess at an ambassador’s garden party.” Henry is saying that one could tell that Eliza was of a lower class just based on the words that she used. He believed that he could alter her way of speaking to pass her off as a higher-class individual. This shows that a person could tell the difference between the classes based on the clothes that they wore and the words that the individual used in speech.
Shaw demonstrates the theme of Pygmalion by showing the interactions of people in different classes. There was a separation of classes that was evident within the book. The Higgins family is a good example of a high-class family that saw the lower classes as people who should not be interacted with. For example, in Act 1, Henry Higgins says this to Eliza Doolittle when he hears her use language that was associated with the lower class, “A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.” Henry views the words of Eliza to be of a lower class. He is obviously not a fan of this. He even says that a woman that speaks like that should have no right to be alive. This shows how Henry, a person in a higher class, viewed the language and customs of the lower class. Henry wants nothing to do with the lower class and thinks that they are not even worth being around.
Shaw institutes his ideas of he social classes and why he thought that the beliefs of Victorian England were wrong. Shaw used the transformation of Eliza and her father as a way to disprove a popular idea that people were born into a specific class and they could not change. The transformation of Eliza is shown in Act 4 when Colonel Pickering comments on Eliza’s change by saying, “I was quite frightened once or twice because Eliza was doing it so well. You see, lots of the real people can’t do it at all: they’re such fools that they think style comes by nature to people in their position; and so they never learn.” This shows how Eliza, a lower class individual was able to use her language so well that it was able to pass her as a higher class individual. Shaw believed that people of the lower-class could move up in class. All they had to do was learn how to present themselves in a better way.
The theme of Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw is social classes and manners. This idea is found throughout the book. Shaw starts out by showing the differences between the classes during the time period. He then goes into showing the reader how people of different classes interacted. Finally, he showed that the beliefs of the people during that time period were wrong. He does this by showing Eliza transforming from a low-class flower girl into a higher class individual. The entire plot of the book was centered around the views of social classes during Victorian England and how those beliefs were wrong, according to Shaw.