Middle-Class Morality

         The character Alfred Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 film adaptation Pygmalion outlines his views of the middle-class and the undeserving poor. We first see this character, played by Wilfred Lawson, when he comes to pinch Professor Higgins, portrayed by Leslie Howard, for money in the name of his daughter, Eliza, depicted by Wendy Hiller. Higgins is quickly charmed by Doolittle and offers to give him twice as much as he asks for. Doolittle passes it up under the explanation that ten pounds would force him to feel prudent-something he detests and avoids by staying at the station of "undeserving poor."

         Later in the story, Doolittle finds himself shoved into position of middle class; and, suddenly, he has to change the way he lives his life. He has to marry his wife. He has to give to charity. He remarks that, as dissatisfied as he is at this change in lifestyle, he has to maintain it. The tragedy of being middle-class is that one's freedom is replaced by fear and struggle. "Intimidated, that's what I am," he asserts to Mrs. Higgins. If he does not continue to keep the money he receives, then he will be a waste-something there was no danger of becoming when his life was deliberately wasteful.

         Before Doolittle received the annuity, he complained about the middle-class's attitude towards him. He described them as not giving him anything because he was unworthy. He complained that middle-class morality was "just an excuse for never giving me anything." Doolittle professed his deservingness, which was based on his need.

         Basically, the main change in his state of being lies the loss of his right to self-interest. Shaw uses Doolittle to demonstrate that middle-class morality is centered on obligation and responsibility.

Annmarie Campbell

Table of Contents