Pygmalion is a play created by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). It depicts a story of a working-class girl trying to change her social identity by learning the bourgeois accent, but ending in failure. The flower girl Elisa did have the talent for language learning. She also learned the accent of the upper class at the end of the play. However, this change did not make her truly a “lady” because she lacked the capital to become a bourgeoisie. And the creation of her higher cultural education. In addition, the purpose of the two linguists of Higgins and Pickering to train Elisa is to promote the “standard English” of the upper class and the fun of betting. Finally, as a Fabianist, Bernard Shaw, at the end, has lost the identity and belonging of Eliza, and indirectly acknowledges the unreality of the cultural improvement of the bourgeoisie alone.
Chapter 1 The Powerless Struggle of the Proletariat
According to the definition of the 11th edition of the Webster University Dictionary, “proletariat” refers to the working class, especially the industrial working class that lacks its own means of production and therefore sells labor to life, or the lowest social or economic society. Class. In Pygmalion, the flower girl Eliza belongs to the proletariat. Eliza earned a living by selling flowers and has no other source of income. Even if she changed her appearance, she was still a proletariat without capital. The flower girl Eliza failed to achieve class leap to become a member of the upper class, because from beginning to end, she did not have the fundamental element of becoming an upper class: capital. In addition, according to Marxist views, the bourgeoisie belongs to a class that has been educated and possesses property.
First, Eliza did not receive any formal education. All she knows is only from her life experience. When she asked Higgins to show her what he wrote, she could not recognize words and phrases. In addition, from her pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammatical language, it is clear that she did not receive any formal education. If six months of speech training can be called education, what she has learned is only linguistic knowledge, not Greek and Roman classic literature or basic political, scientific, and social knowledge. And this kind of education can’t make her a real “lady.”
Second, despite learning the accent, there is still no economic income. When she makes a living by selling flowers, all the money she earns can only satisfy her basic survival needs. In other words, she has nothing to create more capital, she lives on her own labor, that is, a member of the working class. After six months of voice training, she did not fundamentally provide her with capital. At this point, her dilemma is more complicated than before. If she revisited her old business, she had already seen the prosperity of the upper class, and had experienced the life of food and clothing, clean and clean. Her elegant accent and a heart that stayed in the upper class broke her old business of selling flowers. . The choice of Higgins’ proposal was unrealistic for her because she could not really fit into the life of the bourgeoisie. Although she learned how to speak and behave like a real lady, she did not have the capital to maintain a real lady’s life, which made her class leap into an inevitable failure.
Chapter 2: The game and ambition of the bourgeoisie
Eliza is trying her best to change her destiny, but this is just a bet from a bet. Higgins was not interested when Eliza came to Higgins and offered to learn the voice. Higgins did not accept when Eliza offered to pay. But Pickering said that he had accepted the gamble and Higgins accepted it. The cost of the course and his negligence and negligence are his own statement and fun. Although Mrs. Pierce repeatedly reminded Higgins about the future of Eliza, he ignored it. For the selfish and ruthless bourgeoisie, when the teaching is over, the fun of experimentation is much more important than the future of Elisa. At the beginning of the bet, the two linguists had enough reason and knowledge to recognize the influence of identity change on Elisa, and Higgins’ mother had warned of the consequences, but for the vain pride and the pleasure of transforming others. The experiment is still going on. This explains that when Eliza is confused and can’t find her belonging, Higgins can’t help her return to her original life, nor can she let her continue to learn, and she can’t plan her future life.
Higgins has a sense of superiority. He shows that standard English is a gesture of the best pronunciation. People from other regions have different accents and should learn standard English. The process of teaching Eliza is an assimilation process. The bourgeoisie tries to spread their language and cultural habits and carry out the assimilation of ideology. Bernard Shaw attaches great importance to the role of accents as the determinant of primary identity and social acceptability, and it seems that accents are the root cause of social inequality. In fact, “the fact that language is the cause of class division and class distinction is also a consequence” is more obvious in Pygmalion. Higgins is like a missionary who spreads the superiority of standard English. In addition, he earned a living by teaching others’ accents. They even teach American-speaking Americans to learn their own accents, because the London accent has a noble temperament and has neglected the function of the language itself. For Higgins and Pickering, Eliza is another person of another class, while swearing at the bottom of the people’s pronunciation, for example, the way Eliza’s performance is shocked is seen as a Higgins animal scream She also teaches the language and culture of her upper class and class discrimination through language discrimination. “Good and bad language is not inherent in the standard” (Lynda, 61). Changing Eliza’s accent is not an improved method, but an assimilation of mainstream culture. The wealth they possess makes them ruthless and arrogant, has no sympathy for the poor, and does not know how to embrace a different culture.
Chapter III Idealization of Fabianists
Pygmalion also reflects the social problems of his time and expresses his political ideas. He can see the contradictions between different classes and sharply criticize the hypocrisy and selfishness of the bourgeoisie. But Bernard Shaw said, “The reformers the UK needs today are a vibrant voice lover: that’s why I used such a person as a hero of a pop show in the preface to Pygmalion.” But as Friedrich Engels said, the Fabian society has gathered a group of bourgeoisie who lead the workers to moral degradation and put them on the path of counter-measure.
George Bernard Shaw advocated social reforms from the top down, just as the linguists who relied on two bourgeoisie in the play to carry out the transformation of the working class from the perspective of God. In addition, his idealized Fabianist view is that social reform can be achieved through accent changes. In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, Higgins tries to change Eliza’s social identity by changing her accent and her appearance, which belongs to the cultural realm. Obviously, Bernard Shaw attaches great importance to knowledge, science and technology, but culture is ultimately a product of politics and economy, and its fundamental decisive factor remains the economic foundation. The failure of the Eliza class leap is inevitable, because her change is a cultural change, belonging to the superstructure, without the stability of the economic foundation.
Eliza Doolittle’s accent training was successful because Eliza perfectly learned the upper class accent and social style. But in the perspective of class leapfrogging, she failed because it was only a game of the bourgeoisie. Apart from the lost direction of society, it did not bring fundamental changes to the proletariat. Moreover, from the perspective of Bernard Shaw’s creative intentions, Pygmalion cannot solve social contradictions.