In my developmental psychology courses, I learned that the most important relationship between two people is a friendship. Friendships provide much more for both individuals than romantic, relational, or any other types of relationships. While it could be argued that the relationship between Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller) and Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard) in George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion, filmed in 1938 by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, is not so friendly, I like to think the friendship that develops between the two is a perfect example of a positive relationship.
To understand exactly why this relationship is a positive one, we will have to examine the balance between give and take. Higgins, jokingly at first, gives Eliza the opportunity to turn herself into a duchess, or at least pass as one. Eliza takes Higgins up on his offer and arrives at Higgins' residence the next day, seeking education and skills that will pass her off as a lady. Eliza agrees to give up her life as a flower girl and to stay with Higgins and do the work. However, Higgins has an ulterior motive. Higgins views the entire situation as a simple game and makes a bet with Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland) that he will be able to pass Eliza off as a duchess. To Higgins, the plan is a game with a big prize awaiting him: pride in the fact that he could pass Eliza off and trick everyone into believing she is someone she is not, thereby demonstrating that he truly is a master at this skill.
Clearly, I am not setting this relationship up as a positive one. That is because, initially, it is not headed in a positive direction, but give it time. All positive relationships bloom and develop over time.
The next few weeks are spent teaching Eliza how to speak properly, like an elegant lady. During this stage, Higgins and Eliza both give their all. Finally, the day comes when Higgins has to test his little experiment to see its progress. He takes Eliza to a small get-together at his mother's house and allows her to converse with others. Though the experiment does not result in a complete success, it does show Eliza is still being herself. Eliza botches a few sayings and makes herself seem aloof. She even curses, but just changing the way someone speaks does not mean one can change her personality. Higgins' reaction in the film is mixed. He seems a bit disappointed in the outcome of the meeting, but he also seems quite ticked at Eliza's behavior. This is the first sign we see of Higgins growing fond of Eliza. But the experiment does not end there!
Eliza's performance is not quite convincing enough, so she and Higgins go back to long hours of nonstop study and practice. During this phase, we see Higgins' pride grow more and more until the moment finally comes when he takes Eliza to the ball to pass her off as a duchess to the highest class of nobles and royalty. With the help of Colonel Pickering and Higgins' housekeeper, Eliza is dressed up like no flower girl ever before. Higgins' reaction to seeing this dolled-up Eliza is quite positive.
When Eliza and Higgins arrive at the ball, the attendees become very curious about Eliza. They all want to know who the mysterious woman is. One of Higgins' former students (Esme Percy), who has become famous and wealthy because of Higgins' tutelage, is on a quest to discover the mysterious woman's identity and beat his former teacher's secret game. But, Higgins is confident in both his teaching ability and Eliza's ability. He leaves Eliza alone to mingle freely. By the end of the night, it is concluded that Eliza is not a duchess but, in fact, a princess.
Higgins is beyond thrilled with the fact that he wins his bet. He successfully passes off Eliza as a noblewoman, and things are good until he begins boasting so much it is as if Eliza has meant nothing. Eliza is angered by Higgins' thoughtless behavior and lashes out at him. During the weeks they live together, Higgins never once acknowledges Eliza for the help she provides around the house, and now he takes all the credit for making her who she is now. So, Eliza decides to leave instead of staying with Higgins, where she is neither wanted nor needed.
Higgins realizes he has wronged Eliza and goes to speak with her. Though the two continue to argue, the fact that they both care greatly for one another comes out. Higgins misses Eliza and has grown accustomed to having her around the house. Eliza does owe her new life and opportunities to Higgins and is grateful to him. They both say their piece and Higgins leaves Eliza to decide to carry on her life without him or with him. In the film version, Eliza reluctantly decides to go back to him because their friendship is mutually valuable.
All relationships have their ups and downs. Higgins and Eliza learn the value of friendship and to accept one another, to take all the bad with the good. It is a healthy, positive relationship because they both benefit.