Once a Pair, Forever Changed

     Some say that opposites attract, others that the best match is two of a kind. The main characters of George Bernard Shaw's 1913 Pygmalion, Eliza and Higgins, are a little of both. These two characters are stubborn to a fault, racing toward their own goals never realizing how similar their goals are. These same qualities are evident in the 1964 movie, My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor and based on Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe's 1956 play.

     The first, most obvious, difference between Higgins (Rex Harrison) and Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) is the background they come from. Eliza comes from a lower-class background, complete with a hideous accent, few manners, and a skewed sense of social behaviors. All of these characteristics are even more glaringly obvious when pitted against Higgins' rigid upper-class upbringing. It is as if these two are black and white or day and night when one considers all the visible differences between them. In the play we get an understanding of how different their mannerisms are; the movie helps us to visualize the spectrum of the two worlds. We see the change from gutter trash to "duchess" and are not forced to simply imagine how drastic a change it really is.

     Underlying it all they are two peas in a pod. Both suffer from a stubborn streak that compels their actions, forcing them to take drastic measures the average person would consider extreme. Once Eliza hears Higgins' "offer," she takes it upon herself to "fix" her flaws, to recreate herself. Along this same bold line that Eliza can change herself, Higgins takes it on that he can change her. Neither one is willing to admit the extremity of the undertaking or to give up until the end. The end itself brings an issue of stubbornness ands strength to light. If we look at the ending of Pygmalion, she leaves him; at the ending of My Fair Lady, she comes back; both actions show strength on Eliza's part. She is stubborn enough to stick out Henry's tirades, and conversely she is stubborn enough to stand up for herself and walk out. He in return is so stubborn that he will not admit that he needs her or that he is glad when she returns.

     The way they are with people presents the second biggest difference between them. Both of them need people but for opposite reasons. Higgins needs people who need him, while on the opposite end of the spectrum stands Eliza, who need people who need to be "served." In the movie we watched, he charges over everyone regardless of his or her position or the situation. Conversely, Eliza is mild enough to accept what is given to her, whether it be a compliment or an insult. As a pair they have matched each other perfectly, that is until Eliza finishes her transformation into a creature neither one of them could have predicted.

     Throughout the process of creating a new Eliza, neither one of these characters considered the consequence, the final step. They began as two people with differences and similarities as any two people will have, yet in the end they were almost too alike. Eliza had gained a strength, an ability to stand on her own, while Higgins had been shown his vulnerability and how much he really needed from others. They could not be held together by their differences and were forced in the end to work through their similarities.

Melissa Stacy

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