Eliza’s Courage

         Courage is a quality generally attributed to warriors on the battlefield rather than to flower girls who cannot speak proper English. In My Fair Lady, the 1964 film directed by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 Pygmalion, however, Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn, demonstrates her courage quite often, making her seem annoying while she uses poor speech but making her look strong when she has better clothes and grammatical control. She demonstrates courage as a flower girl, as a pupil to Higgins, and as a pretend duchess.

         As a flower girl, Eliza shows courage to everyone she meets. She states her right to be anywhere she likes to members of a higher class than hers in the opening scene. She has no problem begging for money from the ladies and gentlemen. Even with her ragged, muddy appearance, Eliza possesses an authority in her confrontational manner that hints at her inner strength.

         She demonstrates great courage in both going to Higgins (Rex Harrison) and in accepting the invitation to stay as a pupil. For all she knew of Higgins, he might have attempted to interfere with her at any time; and there would not have been much for her to do about it because of her social situation; but she hangs in there and maintains her courage, dealing with her vulnerability well, treading the line every day under Higgins’s care, keeping her composure, and presenting herself as strong-willed.

         After her role as a duchess, Eliza becomes clearly someone with authority. In the scene at Higgins’ mother’s (Gladys Cooper) home toward the end of the story, Eliza realizes Higgins only responds to bullying, and then she bullies him, demonstrating both her keen perception and her great courage. Her finally standing up to him is courageous, and even he admits to liking her that way. She speaks of Higgins in the third person while he is present, saying that the difference between a lady and a flower girl is how she is treated, and her physical and verbal refinement has allowed her to show her inner strength.

         By the end of the film it has become apparent that only her Cockney accent and working class clothes had kept her low in the eyes of others; and her courage, which was seen as annoying in her normal speech and ragged dress, is seen as admirable with better English and clothing. Her true nature is able to shine through with her better speech and clothing. She is not a warrior on the battlefield but a simple flower girl, and that makes her innate courage pretty sexy.

Eric Hovis

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