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Free Study Guide-Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw-Free Book Notes
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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES

ACT TWO

Summary

Act Two opens the next day at Higgins' laboratory in Wimpole Street. Higgins is having a technical discussion about vowel sounds with Colonel Pickering. He explains how he manages to record voices of people on gadgets and can then listen to them at leisure. Just then, Mrs. Pearce (Higgins' housekeeper) interrupts them to say that a common flower girl has come to see him. Higgins instructs Mrs. Pearce to show her up since he is likely to be interested in her accent. Higgins is quite excited by this unexpected stroke of good fortune that will enable him to show Pickering how he makes records by using his apparatus.

When Mrs. Pearce returns with the girl, Higgins recognizes her as the flower girl whom he had met last night and with unconcealed disappointment tells her to leave. However, the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, says that she wants to be a lady in a flower shop, but cannot get a job "unless I can talk more genteel." She wants Higgins to teach her correct pronunciation and is willing to pay for lessons. Higgins and Colonel Pickering indulge in some harmless playful banter with Eliza. To her alarm Higgins becomes increasingly excited as the idea grows on him and he pounces on her as an excellent opportunity to display his talent. He undertakes to "make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe" in six months and she is entrusted to his housekeeper's charge. He instructs Mrs. Pearce to clean her with Monkey Brand, burn all her clothes and wrap her up in brown paper until new ones arrive from the shop. Eliza is alarmed by Higgins' insensitive remarks and thinks that she is being seduced. She insists that she is a "good girl" and that she will not be taken advantage of Mrs. Pearce also protests that Higgins "can't take a girl up like that as if [he] were picking up a pebble on the beach." She expresses concern over Eliza's future and tells Higgins that he "must look ahead a little." But to Higgins, Eliza is at best an object that can be thrown back into the gutter once he is done with her. They find out that Eliza's parents have thrown her out years ago to make a living on her own. Impervious to her plight, Higgins continues to look at her as an object of study rather than a human and points out that it will be the grammar and not the pronunciation that will be the problem.


Higgins' lack of feeling upsets Eliza, who resolutely makes for the door declaring that she is leaving. Higgins tempts her to stay by offering her a chocolate that Eliza reluctantly accepts. Even Colonel Pickering interferes and agrees with Mrs. Pearce that Eliza has a right to know what she is doing if she will entrust herself to Higgins for six months. But Higgins bullies Eliza and tells her that in six months time she shall go to Buckingham Place dressed like a duchess and if the king finds out that she is not a lady but simply a flower girl, she will be beheaded by the police at the Tower of London. However if she is not found out she will receive a present of seven and six pence to start life with it as a lady in a shop. Higgins thinks that this outline of her future is more than sufficient. Mrs. Pearce patiently concedes that she knows that Higgins doesn't mean Eliza any harm, however when he gets "interested in people's accents", he "never think(s) or care(s) what may happen to them or (him)." Mrs. Pearce leaves with the reluctant and suspicious Eliza.

Next, Eliza is seen in a spare bedroom on the third floor where Mrs. Pearce insists that she have a bath. Eliza is appalled by the idea of bathing daily and protests that it would kill her. Amid much dramatic histrionics and truly heartrending cries, Eliza is given her first proper bath by Mrs. Pearce.

Meanwhile, Colonel Pickering has been having it out with Higgins regarding Eliza. He ensures that Higgins will not take advantage of Eliza's position. Mrs. Pearce arrives and tells Higgins that he must not swear before Eliza and he must display better table manners since he is to set an example for her. This sympathetic concern for Eliza mildly offends Higgins. Soon Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle, a dustman arrives to inquire about his daughter. Higgins turns the table on him and tells him that he may take Eliza away at once. Doolittle is taken aback since he does not particularly care about Eliza and his main concern is not to let her go for nothing. Higgins slyly accuses Doolittle of putting up Eliza to the whole act so that they could extort money from him. He tells Mrs. Pearce to hand over Eliza to her father. Doolittle confesses to Higgins that all that he wants is a five-pound note in return for letting Eliza go. Higgins is struck by his statement that he cannot afford morals. After much discussion about middle class morality, Higgins gives Doolittle five pounds. This simpleton from the working class manages to impress Higgins very much.

As Doolittle is leaving with his five pounds, he is confronted by a dainty and exquisitely clean young lady dressed in a kimono. Doolittle fails to recognize her as his own daughter. Even Higgins and the Colonel are amazed by Eliza's transformation. Eliza knows that her father doesn't really care about her and has only come to extort money to get drunk on. Doolittle leaves after an angry exchange of words and the scene draws to a close with Eliza running off to try on her fashionable new clothes that have just arrived.

The readers next witness a sampling of Higgins's lessons with Eliza where he teaches her correct pronunciation, starting with the elementary letters of the alphabet. Higgins' overbearing manner and threats to drag her around the room by her hair frighten Eliza. The lesson ends amid her sobs as she rushes out of the room. This is the kind of ordeal that Eliza has to undergo for months, before the readers get to meet her again in the next act at Mrs. Higgins at- home.

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