Masking Underlying Issues

         My Fair Lady, a musical by Alan Jay Lerner, adapted from the 1913 play Pygmalion, by George Bernard Shaw, is an exquisite example of class perception and discrimination. This film portrays the idea of changing a dirty poor street-woman into a proper and eloquent woman. This is a sociably acceptable way to write a play that is based on the serious underlying idea of social acceptability and discrimination.

         Mr. Higgins (played with delicious arrogance by Rex Harrison) is a well-educated man high on the social pyramid. He has a large home, upper-class friends, and no worries of making ends meet. He places importance on furthering his knowledge of vocals and proper English. He spends his time observing others that are less fortunate than he is and judging their ignorance. He takes pleasure in correcting them and exhibiting his great articulation. He treats people less fortunate than himself as though they are less important and less human.

         Mr. Higgins believes that social status and one’s external presentation determine one’s importance. He initially treats Eliza (Audrey Hepburn), a poor, uneducated street-woman, as though she is worth nothing. He talks down to her and basically calls her trash to her face. He makes is very clear that he feels that he is better than her. He only interacts with her to prove that he is capable of transforming this ignorant dirty woman into a well-spoken elegant lady. He does not teach Eliza to help her but instead to learn for himself from her and practice his teaching skills. He works her day and night, pronouncing vowels, treating her as though she is a dog going through training until she becomes a beautifully behaved and dressed social and linguistic success, especially as played by Audrey Hepburn.

         Mr. Higgins’ actions were common to many people in his time. Social status was of importance. There was much discrimination, some of which sadly still exists today. The play makes light of the situation, by focusing of turning this comically entertaining woman into a proper, beautiful lady. This shows how many felt that the issue of discrimination was of little importance. Still today, many do the same thing in sitcoms and stand-up comedian acts. My Fair Lady is one of numerous examples of films or books that make light of a serious issue such as discrimination for the purpose of entertainment.

Shannon Logan

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