Eliza: Feisty or Forgiving?

         In the 1913 play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, the reader is set up for a classic Cinderella story. There is only one key element missing. In most typical Cinderella stories, the sweet and charming heroine always gets her man. But this is not the case for Eliza Doolittle; Shaw apparently did not seem to agree with this format. Shaw apparently liked a feisty heroine who stands her own ground. After all, Professor Higgins comes across as a selfish egomaniac who cares only about himself. Who would want a man like that? That may very well be why Shaw decided to let Eliza leave Higgins. Eliza is much too feisty and has too much character to continue to live with such a man. She has also become strong and self-respecting, and Shaw evidently realized that no self-respecting woman would voluntarily put up with such a man.

         In the 1938 movie of the same name, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, we see a much different Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller). Although she is still rambunctious and lively, she apparently has a soft spot for Higgins (Leslie Howard) that the book Eliza did not have. Yes, she still gets angry at him; yes, she still tells him what she thinks of him. However, the movie ends with Eliza back in Higgins' study. Does Higgins seem happy that she has returned? Does he apologize for his horrid treatment of her? No. He simply asks her to get his slippers, just as if she were his maid. Maybe the viewers are supposed to believe that this is a love story, that Eliza loves him despite of his egotistical attitude. If this was the point, it was lost on me. I found myself feeling sorry for the poor girl. If she were really very smart, she would know that she could find a man who would appreciate her and love her for who she is. Why she wastes her time with an arrogant, condescending man like Higgins, I will never know.

         Simply put, the original Eliza as created by Shaw demonstrated strength of character and independence by refusing to be oppressed by the likes of Higgins. The Eliza of the movie, on the other hand, is apparently not as strong and will continue to lead a life of oppression with Higgins instead of using her new talents to make a life for herself. I think that if the Eliza from the book could meet the Eliza from the movie, she would promptly give her a piece of her mind.

A Katherine Boyd

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