The Metamorphosis of Woman

Plays, even Shakespeare's, are often a tool for educating the audience. This is also the case for both George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion turned into a movie, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard in 1913 and Henrik Ibsen's 1879 A Doll's House, filmed in 1973 by Patrick Garland. Both plays, through their content, help give the audience an inside view of social as well as interpersonal issues, and it is through these eyes that the audience is able to witness the transformation of both Eliza Doolitle (Wendy Hilller) in Pygmalion and Nora Helmer (Claire Bloom) in A Doll's House. At the end of the plays, the audience is able to witness the emergence of new women through refinement and self-realizations. Both women undergo a metamorphosis because they realized that action must occur for their situations to improve. Both the books and films of the respective plays help to bring to life the metamorphosis through sound, character personalities and music.

Webster's Unabridged Dictionary defines "Metamorphosis" as a profound change in form from one stage to the next in the life history of an organism; as from the caterpillar to the pupa and from the pupa to the adult butterfly. It can also be defined as any complete change in appearance, character and circumstance. Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, experiences not only a change in character but also a change in appearance; and her metamorphosis is more similar to that of a butterfly. Nora in A Doll's House, experiences a change in character as she realizes that she has broken loose from the puppeteer who is essentially keeping her a doll, through controlling her life.

Eliza's transformation occurs at the onset of her winning the bet that both Pickering (Scott Sunderland) and Higgins (Leslie Howard) had placed on her. At the embassy ball, she is successful in passing off as an elite member of society. After passing the test, Eliza begins to wonder what was to become of her as neither Pickering nor Higgins seems to show any sign of concern. In the film, we see Eliza's change when she becomes aware that Higgins has been only using her and, after the ball, does not even acknowledge her presence. At this time the music becomes very soft as it helps to display the sad emotions that Eliza is experiencing. In the film it was also possible to experience Eliza's agony as she took refuge in a corner, just observing the men as they spoke of their success. She then breaks the silence and tells Higgins of her plans to wed Freddy (David Tree). Higgins does not understand why Eliza is so upset. And she says to him, "I want a little kindness. I know I'm a common ignorant girl, and you a book learned gentleman; but I'm not dirt under your feet." Eliza's strength and courage in standing up to Higgins surprises him as well as everyone else in the room as she also tosses his slippers to him. "You damned impudent slut, you! But it's better than sniveling; better than fetching slippers and finding spectacles, isn't it?I said I'd make a woman out of you; and I have. I like you like this." In the film Eliza's character stands strong in her determination, by being able to walk away from Higgins, who remains in disbelief that the creature that he created, now has a mind of her own.

In the play and film A Doll's House, Nora realizes what kind of person her husband Torvald (Anthony Hopkins) is, where the secret of her forged bond arises. She decides that she has to leave. "You don't understand me, and I have never understood you either--before tonight." Nora realizes that in their eight years of marriage, that moment, was the first time that they have directly communicated. She has realized that Torvald has never loved her but was merely in love with the thought of being in love with her and tells him that she must leave. "I must stand quite alone if I am to understand myself and everything about me. It is for that reason that I cannot remain with you any longer." In the film, this is a defining moment as it shows Nora's strength and independence, something that Torvald has wanted to suppress all along. During this scene, the music is very soft as if to signal the unsuspecting sorrow.

In both plays and their respective film versions, the women have gone through a metamorphosis. Nora's realization of Torvald's part in her misery allows her to leave him, as she knows that she cannot be happy with him; she understands that Torvald will never change. She becomes aware of the mistreatment that she endured and, as a result, leaves in order to find her true self. Eliza, though she has changed in physical appearance and mannerisms, has always had the makings of a woman within her; something that even Higgins could not deny.

Chantal Curtis

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