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Free Study Guide-Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw-Free Book Notes
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THEMES

Major Themes

Shaw called Pygmalion a potboiler and subtitled it "A Romance." Thus the play's main thematic concern is romantic in the literary use of the term. It is a play that has a highly improbable plot. Professor Henry Higgins transforms a common flower girl into a graceful lady, like the legendary Greek sculptor Pygmalion carved an exquisite female statue out of a shapeless piece of ivory.

Higgins achieves this incredible transformation by teaching Eliza to speak correctly. While this is nothing more than a scientific experiment to him, he is amazed to find that Eliza has fallen in love with him. Hence while Shaw's avowed intention is to make "the public aware that there are such people as phoneticians, and that they are among the most important people in England at present," the play turns out to be an education in the incalculability of the human heart.


Minor Themes

Pygmalion as a comedy of ideas is concerned with manners and class. It is a criticism of social barriers and class distinctions and it upholds the ideal of equal opportunities of wealth and education for all, regardless of class and gender. It exposes the sham of genteel standards and examines the real difference between a lady and a flower girl, a gentleman and a dustman. It is a scathing criticism of the Victorian concept of the "undeserving poor," who were accused of bringing their indigent state upon themselves due to vice.

Other minor Themes include the limitations imposed by respectability, the fundamental difference of opinion between men and women, and the way gender differences may inadvertently complicate relationships. All these Themes enrich the play's texture and scope.

MOOD

Pygmalion is a refreshing mixture of comedy and satire. Shaw wrote in the foreword to the Complete Plays, "If I make you laugh at yourself, remember that my business as a classic writer of comedies is 'to chasten morals with ridicule'; and if I sometimes make you feel like a fool, remember that I have by the same action cured you of your folly." As comedy the play is vibrant and joyful. The dialogues sparkle with wit and humor. However this comic spirit is leavened with a relentless scrutiny of the emotions and motives of the characters. Shaw saw the theatre as a medium of improving social conditions and his prime goal was to make the people aware of their failings as well as society's. However, the severity of his judgment is mitigated by the fact that nearly everyone is found guilty.

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