Rags to Riches Only in Appearance

     In both the 1913 written version of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and the 1938 film version, directed by Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard, the character of Eliza Doolittle captured my heart.

     Eliza's most captivating feature was that she was fiercely proud. It did not matter to Eliza that she was a poor flower girl or that her clothes were tattered and dirty or even that her way of speaking was not correct to those of the cultured persuasion.

     This is not to say that she did not have the desire to better herself; obviously she did. If she had not wanted a better life for herself she would have been willing to pay Professor Higgins (Leslie Howard on screen) what was for Eliza (Wendy Hiller in the film) a great deal of money. Eliza's desire to be a lady in a flower shop is proof that she had the desire to be something more.

     The point is that more people in the world should have the attitude that Eliza did. She stood up for herself no matter what. Even though Henry Higgins talked to her as though she were dirt beneath his feet, she never began to think that way about herself.

     Eliza was poor, and she had led a hard life. It is implied in the movie that Eliza had raised herself to a certain extent and had never had the benefit of a normal family life. Eliza believed, rightly, that she was deserving of the same rights and privileges as every other person and saw to it that she defended those rights.

     Eliza was a strong and brave and very confident in who she was as a person. This was evidenced by her going to Henry Higgins' house in the first place and offering money for her lessons. She went bravely in and never thought to ask for the lessons free; her pride would not have allowed it. Although the experience was not a wonderful one, she still held her own very well. Eliza got what she wanted.

     Her confidence and stubbornness were also apparent when she began taking lessons from Higgins. He was very hard on her and very demanding, but she did not give in. She fought back at him with her determination. She spent many sleepless nights, learning her new way of speaking and did not quit although Higgins was not what one would call a gentle or patient teacher.

     In the beginning I found it hard to believe that Eliza did not walk out of the house on Wimpole Street without so much of the blink of the eye. When Higgins began to tell her that she was a squashed cabbage leaf, and talking about her as if she were not even in the room, I wondered why someone so proud did not leave.

     After seeing the entire movie and thinking it over, I realized that Eliza was able to stay and did stay because of her pride. Eliza was not compromising herself by staying; rather she was proving again how determined she was. Her pride acted as a buffer. Henry's remarks bounced off her.

     Although Henry Higgins was a very effective teacher, Eliza was herself responsible for her success. She knew she could learn to speak well, and Henry Higgins' insults were not about to get in her way. After reading Pygmalion and seeing the movie, many might say Eliza was transformed from a wretched flower girl in to a beautifully refined creature, but on a closer examination it becomes clear that this theory is not true at all.

     Eliza had a great deal before she ever met Henry Higgins. She had pride, confidence and strength in her heart and her soul. Henry Higgins did not give her that, and he could not take it away. Eliza Doolittle is proof that pride and strength of character are two of the greatest gifts a person can possess.

     Hooray for Eliza and all those like her who hang on to their dignity for dear life and value and believe in themselves above all else.

Slone Hutchison

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