Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Evident in Pygmalion

         There are a few minor differences between George Bernard Shaw's 1913 play, Pygmalion, and Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 film, Pygmalion; however, one thing is evident in both, the self-fulfilling prophecy. As a communication minor at Murray State University, I have learned numerous communication styles and theories; and the self-fulfilling prophecy is definitely a significant element in both the play and the film Pygmalion. Robert K. Merton, a Columbia University sociologist, originated the self-fulfilling prophecy concept in 1948. According to Joseph DeVito, author of Human Communication, a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs "when one makes a prediction or formulates a belief that comes true because he or she made the prediction and acted on it as if it were true."

         In both the play and the film Pygmalion, the self-fulfilling prophecy takes place. Professor Henry Higgins (Leslie Howard) bets his friend, Colonel Pickering (Scott Sunderland), he could transform Eliza Doolittle (Wendy Hiller), from uneducated flower girl to an elegant and proper lady for an important society ball. The self-fulfilling prophecy begins to be carried out when Higgins believes something will take place. He believes and then bets that Eliza will be turned into a beautiful woman for the society ball. Higgins then behaves in ways that ensure she will become this type of woman. He teaches her proper edict, speech, and manners. As he does so, she is transformed into the phenomenal lady he had pictured.

         People may not even know they are taking part in a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the time, Eliza did not know she was going to fulfill Higgins' expectations. Confident that they both could do it, Eliza became slowly refined but also less reliant upon Higgins. Eliza even surpassed his predictions; and I believe Higgins did not want to live without her. In the play, Higgins should have made and acted on the prediction that Eliza would have fallen for him in the end. However, that was not the case. I do not blame her for not wanting to stick around with Higgins. After all, he was very harsh and unsympathetic towards her. As he did in the film, he should have incorporated a little sympathy and kindness into the bet, and then Eliza would have fallen for him.

         In the play and the film Pygmalion, Higgins had important expectations and behaved in ways that insured his expectations were fulfilled. The play and film included great examples of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The film enabled me to actually see how Higgins acted, and through the actions I saw Eliza's astonishing transformation. A self-fulfilling prophecy does not predict the future; however it can make it. If a person makes a prediction then acts in ways to ensure his or her prediction comes true, then the self-fulfilling prophecy has occurred. In the film it seemed Higgins predicted the future, knowing that Eliza would be the most spectacular lady at the ball; however that was not the case. He made it.

Melanie Brewer

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