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

ACT FIVE

Summary

The fifth and last act opens in Mrs. Higgins's drawing room. Higgins arrives in quite a state to tell his mother that Eliza has bolted. He does not know that Eliza has fled to his mother for support. He tells her that instead of going to bed last night Eliza had changed her clothes and run away. Furthermore, she had come in a cab before seven that morning and Mrs. Pearce foolishly let her collect her things without telling him a word. Mrs. Higgins replies that Eliza has a prefect right to leave if she chooses to do so. Shortly after this exchange, the Colonel enters. When Higgins asks him whether he has offered a reward to the police for finding Eliza, Mrs. Higgins is flabbergasted. She remonstrates both of them for their childish behavior in setting the police after Eliza. At this point, the parlor-maid announces that a gentleman named Mr. Doolittle has come from Wimpole Street and wants to see Higgins. Higgins inquires if this Doolittle is the dustman. When the maid replies that Doolittle is a gentleman, Higgins excitedly jumps to the conclusion that Eliza has gone off to some genteel relative of hers - someone they don't know anything about.

Alfred Doolittle enters resplendently dressed and accuses Higgins of destroying his happiness. Higgins inquires whether he has found Eliza. Doolittle replies that Higgins has all the luck in the world and that although he hasn't found Eliza she is sure to find him once she comes to know what Higgins has done to him. He proceeds to melodramatically accuse Higgins of having delivered him "into the hands of middle class morality." Higgins declines any knowledge apart from giving him £5 and having two conversations with him at half-a-crown an hour. Doolittle then explains that Higgins can't deny having written to an American language fanatic, Ezra D. Wannafeller, who was giving millions to establish moral reform societies worldwide and who wanted Higgins to invent a universal language for him.


Doolittle asks Higgins to deny that he had recommended him as the most original moralist at present in England. This accusation appears to be true as Higgins had jokingly recommended his name to Mr.Wannafeller. Doolittle tells Higgins that Wannafeller had died and left him &pound;3,000 a year on the condition that he lecture for the Wannafeller Moral Reform World league as often as six times a year. Thus Doolittle holds Higgins responsible for making him a gentleman.

He does not mind lecturing, but what distresses him most is that he has lost his freedom. Earlier whenever he was in need he could appeal to the likes of Higgins while now everybody touches him for money. He finds that he is not healthy enough and doctors think they have to examine him twice a day. While earlier he did not have a single relative in the world, he is now surrounded by fifty, none of whom earn a decent week's wages. He declares that, "I have to live for others and not for myself: that's middle class morality." He candidly confesses that he is daunted by the prospect of going to work because he is old and will not last there much longer. Thus cannot repudiate the legacy that has forced him into the middle class.

Mrs. Higgins states that Doolittle's fortune at least solves the problem of Eliza's future since he can now provide for her. Doolittle replies with melancholy resignation that now he is expected to provide for everybody. However Higgins jumps up and reminds Doolittle that Eliza no longer belongs to him since he had taken &pound;5 for her. Mrs. Higgins is quite taken aback by her son's absurdity and tells him that Eliza is upstairs. She proceeds to tell them that Eliza had come to her that morning and complained of the brutal way in which Higgins had treated her. Higgins and the Colonel are both surprised to hear this. Higgins claims that it had been Eliza who had behaved most outrageously and had thrown his slippers in his face. Mrs. Higgins points out that instead of praising Eliza for her hard work they had talked about how glad they were that the whole thing was over. It was hardly surprising that she had thrown Higgins's slippers at him. The Colonel concedes that they have been a little inconsiderate with Eliza. Mrs. Higgins tells them that while Eliza will not go back to Wimpole Street now that her father is able to keep her position as a lady, she is willing enough to meet them on a friendly basis and forget what has happened. She asks Higgins to behave himself and tells Doolittle to step out on the balcony and not cause the poor girl even more anxiety. Mrs. Higgins then tells the maid to ask Eliza to come down.

The wait is extremely agonizing for Higgins. Presently Eliza enters. She is carrying a little basket and appears to be very much at home. She plays the gracious lady and after inquiring about their health resumes her needlework. Her cold and indifferent attitude infuriates Higgins, who exclaims, "I have created this thing out of the squashed cabbage leaves of the Covent Garden; and now she pretends to play the fine lady with me." While Mrs. Higgins placates her son, Eliza continues to torment him by her acerbic remarks. She tells the Colonel that she owes a great deal to him. She goes on to say that she does not feel obliged simply because he paid for her dresses but because of the fact that she really learned good manners from him and that is what makes a lady. It was very difficult with the example of Higgins always in front of her. When Pickering reminds her that it was Higgins who really taught her how to speak, Eliza offhandedly replies, "Of course, that is his profession." She asserts that her real education began when the Colonel addressed her as Miss. Doolittle when she first came to Wimpole Street. It was the Colonel's courtesy and good manners that made her feel that she was better than a scullery-maid. She then says the famous lines that "the difference between a lady and a flower girls is not how she behaves, but how she is treated." She will always be a flower girl to Higgins because he always treats her like one but she can be a lady to the Colonel because he treats her like a lady and always will.

Eliza's condemnation strikes Higgins to the quick and he damns her. The Colonel jokingly tells Eliza to rejoin him. But she claims that she has forgotten her language and can speak nothing but his. For Eliza, leaving Wimpole Street constitutes the real and final break-off with one corner of the Tollenham Court Road. Alarmed that Eliza is leaving Wimpole Street, the Colonel asks her to forgive Higgins. But Higgins scoffs at the idea of her forgiveness and prophesizes that she will regress back to her Cockney accent in barely three weeks without his guidance. At this Doolittle comes near the window and looks reproachfully at Higgins and proceeds to approach Eliza. As Eliza insists that she will not be able to utter one of the old sounds even if she tried to do so, Doolittle touches her lightly on her shoulder. Shocked at her father's transformation, Eliza immediately utters "A-a-a-a-a-ah-ow-ooh", much to Higgins delight. Doolittle tells Eliza that he is going to marry the woman who had lived with him as Eliza's stepmother and laments that he has become a victim of middle class morality. He then asks the Colonel to see him through the wedding. The reader learns that Doolittle had not been married to Eliza's mother but had refrained from telling her about it. Mrs. Higgins, who also wants to go to the ceremony, tells Eliza that she shall accompany her in the carriage to the church. The Colonel again pleads with Eliza to return to Wimpole Street. He then leaves with Doolittle.

Higgins is finally left alone with Eliza. He tells her that if she comes back he will treat her just like he has always treated her. He declares that his manners are exactly the same as Colonel Pickering's. Eliza counters that the Colonel treats a flower girl as if she were a duchess. Higgins retorts that he treats a duchess as if she were a flower girl. This implies that he only respects intellectual capacity. Eliza then compares Higgins to her father. Higgins accepts the comparison but not in its entirety. He agrees that like Doolittle, he has does not pretend to like respectability and he hates social hypocrisy. He proceeds to explain pedantically that the great secret is "having the same manners for all human souls: in short, behaving as if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class carriages, and one soul is as good as another." But Eliza refuses to be swayed by his rhetoric and declares that while she does not care how Higgins treats her, she "wont be passed over" i.e. she does not want to be ignored.

Higgins implores Eliza to return to Wimpole Street. He scrupulously tells her that he has become rather used to having her around, and dependent on her for all sorts of little services, and that he should miss her if she should go away. This leads to a confrontation between the master and his creation. Eliza retorts that he can always turn to his gramophone for her voice and photographs for comfort since these objects do not have any feelings to hurt. Higgins pleads that he shall not have access to her soul through those objects. When Eliza persists in believing that he does not care for her, Higgins loses his temper and says that he cares for her since he cares for life and humanity. He declares that he does not and will not "trade in affection." Eliza asks him why he created Duchess Eliza without thinking about the trouble it would create for her. Higgins replies that the world would never have been created if its maker had been afraid of making trouble. Making life means making trouble. When Eliza refuses to sympathize with his point of view, he furiously leaves the decision solely to her, stating that he does not care what happens to either of them. He tells her that she is free to leave if she isn't satisfied and live with her stepmother or sell flowers. Higgins proposes that he could adopt her as a daughter and settle money on her or that she could marry Pickering.

This infuriates Eliza who hotly replies that she would never marry Higgins even if he asked her and even though he is nearer her age than Pickering. After a moment Higgins reflects that probably Pickering is also a confirmed bachelor like himself.

Eliza then reveals much to Higgins' surprise that Freddy Hill loves her and would probably make her happy. Higgins asks Eliza whether she expects him to be infatuated with her like Freddy. Eliza replies that all she wants is a little kindness and friendship. Higgins continues to torment her by saying that her choice is between the cold, unfeeling, strenuous world of Science, Literature, Music, Philosophy and Art and the life of the gutter. She can marry a sentimental hog or somebody with lots of money who does not respect her. Eliza, hurt by Higgins' insensitivity, vows that she will no longer be trampled upon and declares that she will marry Freddy as soon as she is able to support him. Higgins is stunned by the turn of events. He cannot imagine that Eliza would even consider marrying the worthless Freddy who isn't even fit to be an errand boy. In no mood to reason, Eliza counters that Freddy was not brought up to work. Instead she will offer herself as an assistant to Nepommuck for teaching phonetics. This suggestion infuriates Higgins. Eliza is thrilled to have at least found a way of tormenting Higgins. She declares that she will advertise in the papers that Higgins' duchess is only a common flower girl that he has taught and that she will teach the same to anyone for a hundred guineas.

Higgins is stunned with anger but at the same time happy that Eliza isn't sniveling anymore. He remarks that he has made a true woman out of Eliza and he likes her the better for it. He is glad that she has become a tower of strength. He tells her that they can now live together like three old bachelors instead of only two men and a silly girl.

At this point Mrs. Higgins enters dressed for the wedding. Eliza goes along with her father and Higgins decides not to go at all. Eliza tells him that this is going to be their last meeting. He does not pay any attention to this and asks Eliza to do an errand for him on the way home. Eliza ignores him and asks him to do his work himself. As they are leaving, Mrs. Higgins remarks that were Eliza less fond of Pickering she would be uneasy about her and Higgins. Higgins refutes this suggestion with uproarious laughter and jokingly adds that she is going to marry Freddy. Thus the play ends ambiguously. It is left uncertain whether Eliza may indeed marry Higgins.

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