“What They Wouldn’t do for a Better Life”

         It is common knowledge for women, that whenever a woman is pushed over the edge, that is it. She will become extremely stubborn and stand firm. However, not all men grasp this fact and do nothing but wallow in their lack of understanding after the fact. Although, an audience would want to see their main character well and happy in love, being subordinate to someone else is not always the best way to leave a character. In the past two stories we have discussed in class, we have come across a heroine who has become so fed up with being dependent upon the man in her life that she suddenly gains the courage to stand up to those who held her down. In Pygmalion, written in 1913 by George Bernard Shaw, Eliza Doolittle learned what she could from the arrogant Henry Higgins and then left once the lessons were finished and the true reason behind his work was highlighted. However, in My Fair Lady, written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe in 1956 and filmed by George Cukor on 1964, after she had stood firm in her beliefs and she had tested out her communication skills, Eliza (Audrey Hepburn) returned to her controlling and incompetent dear friend, Professor Higgins (Rex Harrison).

         In Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle is a poor flower girl in Covent Garden. But with the wager between two highly intelligent men, they turn her into a proper lady in the matter of a few months. Throughout these six months Professor Higgins and Eliza become equally dependent, only Eliza lacks the respect she needs from her companion. Eventually, she realizes this aspect of her friendship with this man and refuses to put up with it any longer.

         The scene in Pygmalion following the ball in Higgins' study is the pivotal point in the film. This is the point that six months of pent-up emotions finally surface and Eliza fights for the respect she has wanted all her life. This particular argument bleeds over into the next day at Mrs. Higgins home; but all throughout the confrontation, although Henry Higgins acts like a child in a fight with his parents, he speaks to, and treats Eliza as his own child. On the balcony off of his mother's parlor Higgins proceeds to ask her if she has had enough of the dispute and if she is ready and willing to be reasonable. Once it is established he treats everyone the same, she mentions, "Same as father."

         One can only admire her for such an action. She is a woman with nothing but borrowed belongings and little education. Yet she sees a situation she needs to get out of, no matter what the stakes are. Eliza mentions in a speech to Professor Pickering, in front of Henry Higgins, the difference between a lady and a flower girl lies in the way she is treated, instead of the way she behaves. She sees that she is being treated as a flower girl while behaving like a lady. She knows she is unappreciated, and she knows she would be better in the long run if she did not stay at Wimpole Street. She is not trained to be anything but a flower girl, but wants to face the world as a lady. Therefore she decides to take her chances, take her pride, and leave.

         In My Fair Lady, everything seems to be very much the same except that last portion of the story. Eliza stands up for herself just as she should, and both characters say what they felt needed to be said. In the added scene, the audience meets Henry in his study wallowing in what he has lost with Eliza's decision to leave and marry Freddy (Jeremy Brett). The audience begins to see his longing for her and blankets him with sympathy. Just as everyone is watching his torment, Eliza appears abandoning her moral belief for the sake of some sort of apparent attraction to the Professor.

         Once Eliza Dootlittle saw true nature of the man she had grown to care for, she knew she deserved better. She left everything behind for no immediate reward. In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and Alan Jay Lerner's My Fair Lady, we have come across a very dependent heroine who suddenly gains the courage to stand up to the one who held her down. In this story, Eliza was devalued and treated as a child. She was mistreated and taken for granted but soon came to realize she needed to take fate into her own hands.

Becky Owler

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