What's the Point?

     In 1913 George Bernard Shaw wrote a play containing dry humor on the subject of the English language. Shaw wrote the play Pygmalion to express his dissatisfaction with the numerous idiosyncrasies of the English language. The play was written as protest. So how did Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's adaptation in 1938 become a love story? Asquith and Howard's movie Pygmalion became focused on the love triangle between Professor Higgins, Eliza, and Freddie. How is it that Shaw let his personal protest become a story of immature romance. There are many reasons that this play should not have become a love story.

     One of the first reasons this should not have been a love story is the fact that Professor Higgins is a rather selfish and self-centered individual. From the beginning he displays nothing but contempt for Eliza. He badgers her, patronizes her, and degrades her. When he first met her, he tells her that she is a disgrace to the language of Milton and Shakespeare. He tells her she is a squashed cabbage leaf and that she is nothing but a guttersnipe numerous times. How can that be the hero of any love story? He brings her to tears and shows no remorse for it. He claims all the responsibility for Eliza's success and says she would be nothing without him. He displays no interest in Eliza's feelings or sense of self-worth, but in the end he says he could not respect her because she did not respect herself and was not worthy of his respect. How could she when he belittled her from the beginning? But once she gains confidence by leaving Higgins, they suddenly fall in love. I do not buy that. How could Eliza love someone who displayed so little concern for her?

     Shaw did not intend for Higgins to be a likable person. He wanted Higgins to be self-centered man; this allowed him to not have to get Eliza and Higgins together in the end. He wanted this play to show the value of proper speaking and the effect it can have on someone's life. Shaw wanted to show how anyone can change his or her lot in life if given the proper opportunities. That is why he created the lowly characters of Eliza and Mr. Doolittle. Asquith and Howard may have started the whole "Pretty Woman" plot with their movie in which two individuals from completely opposite ends of the social scale fall in love. He shows the idea that love conquers all. Give me a break; this idea is as far from Shaw's point as you can get.

     How is it that we are to believe that Eliza (Wendy Hiller) could love Higgins (Leslie Howard)? She is supposed to love the man that made her cry, degraded her, threatened to throw her out, but took all the credit for her transformation. Then after she stands up to him, he says that he can now respect her; and, upon her return, the first thing he says is "Eliza can you fetch me my slippers?" Higgins made Eliza subservient throughout the play; and, after he says he then respects her, he does the same thing.

     The movie Pygmalion is a far cry from Shaw's version if one considers the points being made and the believability of the endings. If Asquith and Howard had really thought about making a love story, they should have changed the way Higgins treated Eliza throughout the movie. How could Eliza possibly love a man that treated her the way Higgins did. By changing only the ending, Asquith and Howard made a movie that not only emphasizes different points than Shaw's version but also is very unrealistic in its outcome.

Shawn Rainey

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