A Man or a Child? The Grinch Transformed

         If you have ever read Alan Jay Lerner's 1956 book or watched Frederick Loewe's and Lerner's 1964 film, My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and based on George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, you should have noticed the character of Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison). He definitely stands out, whether it is his laid-back behavior or his tendency to come down hard on Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn). It is through his character that we see a man act out almost as a child would. Furthermore, we see Professor Higgins act out as much as the Grinch would.

         In the beginning of the play, Higgins is a very distinguished man. He is very knowledgeable in his subject of phonetics and does not hesitate to display so. It is not until Eliza comes into the picture that we begin to see just how tough a man Higgins can be. See, Eliza wants to learn to speak proper English. At first, Higgins is against the idea, saying that he has no use for a girl such as herself. But, then, a bet is made with Colonel Pickering (Wilfred Hyde-White) that Higgins would have to teach Eliza the proper English in a very short time in order to pass her off as a duchess at the Embassy ball. Higgins is determined to see this through.

         Night and day, Higgins works with Eliza, starting from the very beginning with vowel sounds and other common letter sounds. He practically works her to the bone. He hounds and stays down on her until she can get the element of speech sought after for that day's lesson. At this time, the evil of the man is portrayed. At one point Higgins becomes very strict with Eliza-dictating that she have no tea and no supper until she gets the proper word said, and on and on. It is not that she does not try to speak properly; it is that she is a bedraggled flower girl, in her twenties, who has never spoken in any other manner. It is throughout the course of the play, in the film, that I see a resembling character in Professor Higgins.

         With each chant, phrase, and song uttered by Higgins, I see more and more the character of the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), directed by Ron Howard. Just like the Grinch (Jim Carrey), Higgins is very sly, trying to pass off a young girl as a duchess and only to prove a bet. He sings aloud at one point, "No, no, no--that isn't right," just as the Grinch slyly says something like, "No that can't work; I must think of something else; yes, I must think of something else." In this manner, Higgins seems almost childish, laughing to himself about how well he could pass off Eliza. Because of her stubbornness, he continues on, chanting again that he "wouldn't ever let a woman in his life; no, never let a woman in his life." And at the same time he has that evil sneer and evil tone in his speech. In passing off Eliza as a duchess, he does succeed. We are then drawn through to Higgins's after remarks during his celebration with Colonel Pickering in that he is so glad it is all over with and that he made it all successful. Here, no credit is given to Eliza at all, and she feels that she never was or ever will be needed again.

         It is at this point that Eliza leaves the professor's house. And again, we see "the Grinch" in Professor Higgins. He is always thinking of himself and not of how others think or feel. Then, he begins chanting again: this time, "Why can't a woman be like a man? Why can't a woman be like a man?…Like me? ...Men are so honest, decent, friendly..." Again, Higgins is thinking of himself. He acts as a child, whining that Eliza should not have left. Who will tell him his appointments, find his documents, or remind him of things?

         It is then that we see the soft spot in Higgins. He really has learned to love Eliza, maybe more so as a father would love his daughter. I think some part of him really has come to care about Eliza and in what he has helped her to accomplish. He now misses her. And he at last seems almost to appreciate Eliza, just as the Grinch has come to appreciate Christmas.

         So, throughout the course of the play/film we see a sly little man act out as a child, and at the same time, this same little man acts as a distinguished professor. Although, he laughs like a little child when the deal is over and also had previously whined about the young girl not getting the speech properly, we still see another man-a man of strength. With his hard work toward teaching Eliza, and even being hard on her to make her learn the material, Higgins does stand as a man. In the end, we see Higgins in both characters. The slight smile on his face, as he sees Eliza home again, creates his inner child-pleased and satisfied-now ready to continue his service as a professor, a man, sitting in his chair behind his desk. Just so, the Grinch reveals his kind and gentle heart. His smile expresses his inner child, and he has come to appreciate Christmas and to realize how good it feels to receive gifts. As a man, the Grinch joins the circle of people dancing and singing around the Christmas tree, and he takes the position of Santa Claus handing out all the presents from the back of his sleigh

Jonetta Tabor

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