From Flower Girl to Lovely Lady

         In the 1938 film version of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play Pygmalion, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, we watch Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) going through an amazing transformation. In the beginning of the movie we come in on Eliza as an ordinary flower girl making her living the only way she knows how, by selling flowers to ladies and gentlemen.  Eliza shows that she is not well educated in the manner in which she presents herself. She is not well groomed and does not speak proper English. Her speech is what draws Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) to her at first.  He becomes interested in her speech and begins taking down her words. He points out to everyone that Eliza is a disgrace to the English language.  At this time he begins talking with Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) about how he could change Eliza from a common flower girl into a duchess in only six months.

         During the first month of so that Eliza lives in Higgins' home we still see much of her "flower girl attitude." She still uses the same language and words that she always has; the only difference at this point is that she is clean and well dressed. Finally, in a moment of triumph, Eliza starts speaking correctly. As soon as she shows that she knows how to speak, Pickering and Higgins want to "try her out" on high class people. They decide to take her to Higgins' mother's house. While they are at Mrs. Higgins' (Marie Lohr) home, it is apparent that, while Eliza has learned how to speak properly, she is still not a lady.  She begins to talk about things higher society does not speak of; and she still uses the slang words; only now they are pronounced correctly.

         After the disaster of Mrs. Higgins' at-home, Eliza continues to work on becoming a lady.  Higgins teaches her what to talk about and what not to; he also teaches her to dance and how to address different kinds of royalty in preparation for the embassy ball. While at the ball, she puts on a great show and does so flawlessly.  By the end of the play and movie we see an amazing transformation in Eliza. Not only is she able to speak properly and act properly, but she also gains her own self-respect. She no longer stands for Higgins' uncaring ways, and she warns him that she will not be looked over and that she expects him to treat her as the lady that she is. Eliza has finally gotten to believe in herself and has others believing in her also. She has finally become the lovely lady that no longer resembles the dirty flower girl.

Elizabeth Barrett

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