Literary Analysis of Pygmalion from Feminism lens


The literary analysis of Pygmalion from Feminism lens requires to know about the definition of this literary theory first. Feminism deals with the social and political movements along with the ideologies.  It deals with the objective to explain, form, and attain the economical, political, and social equalities. Feminist literary criticism utilizes the belief and philosophy of feminism to assess the language of literature. This perspective seeks out to examine and define the methods in which literature depicts the chronicle of male authority by studying the social, economical, political and psychosomatic features entrenched in the literature.


The famous play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw is the finest example of feminist criticism in literature. In overall play, the patriarchal behaviour is evident against females. The role of women was very stereotypical during the Victorian era. Women were to be very specific in their conduct and the treatment that they used to receive. Although, Shaw has written Pygmalion 1912, but the glimpses of Victorian Era are very much visible in the play. It could be mainly because Bernard Shaw himself was born and raised during this era. It is quite evident in his writings as well. Even by the time, the play was performed on stage, women were deprived of many basic rights. Women were not allow to choose the career, right to vote, seek divorce, share of inheritance, etc.

Feminism element in the text

Let’s take a look that where is the literary analysis of Pygmalion from Feminism lens is present. While looking at the text from feminist lens, the foremost point comes from the name itself. The name of the play Pygmalion is from the Ovid’s poem, Metamorphoses.

In this poem, Pygmalion ridicules all the women and chose to spend his life unmarried, without any companion. He then creates a woman’s statue that is perfect of all the women and falls in love with her. He named that statue Galatea. The statue later came into life as a woman.

The myth of Pygmalion is explained very effectively by Shaw in the Victorian times of England. Here, when Higgins and Pickering convert Eliza Doolittle into a civilized lady. To fulfil this role, she has to be all fake. Mainly because this was the requirement of British society at that time. Eliza had to be a perfect lady who speaks in a mannered way, act decently, and appears all polished. She was also wearing pretty dresses like all the other ladies of the upper class. Like the ideal woman of Pygmalion, the training and education was also given to Eliza to meet all the requirements of femininity. She had to be someone else rather than her own self. Higgins transformed Liza into that ideal lady same as the ideal lady of Pygmalion. Here, we can observe that how this patriarchal society wants to mould woman, according to its ways.

Evidence from the text

In Act I, Higgins ridicules Eliza because she speaks a language that she knows and it cannot not make her a respectable person. “A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere–no right to live. Likewise, Higgins also called her bilious pigeon just because she could not speak proper English. On one side, the professor is insulting Eliza for not speaking in an appropriate manner while on the other hand, he is using degrading language for her throughout the text. This is the height of hypocrisy which is present very commonly amongst the patriarchal society.

Evidence from Act II

In Act II, when Eliza turns up at the Higgins’ house for the lessons, he again accuses her of being ill mannered.

“Remember: that’s your handkerchief; and that’s your sleeve. Don’t mistake the one for the other if you wish to become a lady in a shop”.

In order to make her mark as a respectful lady, she has to be good mannered instead of acting as the roadside casual girl. This also depicts the societal acceptance of women who has to drink tea in a formal way, sit with grace, carry a handkerchief and act too much delicate. We can see this in Act I by THE DAUGHTER when she asked Freddy to fetch a taxi as she cannot go and do this dirty work. This explains very much that if a woman wants to show themselves as a respectable one, then they must not do such acts that could highlight them. In other words, there was a division of roles amongst these two genders while feminism acts against these gender roles. Feminism argues that you are allowed to act as per your convenience.

literary analysis of Pygmalion from Feminism lens in the character of Mrs Pearce

Mrs Pearce, who is a housekeeper of Higgins, disapproves of his experiment on Eliza. She is also concern about her that what will happen once they will be done with the training.

MRS. PEARCE. Will you please keep to the point, Mr. Higgins? I want to know on what terms the girl is to be here. Is she to have any wages? And what is to become of her when you’ve finished your teaching? You must look ahead a little.This shows that Higgins is not much interested in what will become of Eliza later rather he is only bothered about his experiment and bet on her. Whereas as a woman, Mrs Pearce wants her to be in safe hands for now and for the later. Higgins himself says it as well that they can throw her back into the gutter when the experiment will complete and she can do whatever she want with her life. It depicts the selfish nature of Mr Higgins that he is merely treating Liza as an experimental object rather as an alive being.

Doolittle’s appalling act

The further affront of woman’s existence is present in the play when Doolittle asked for 5 pounds in trade of her daughter with Mr Higgins. Doolittle: Well, what’s a five pound note to you? And what’s Eliza to me? It is hideous to know that here; men are merely considering women as an object, which they can trade in exchange of money. The irony is that the man is none other than her own father who further claims that he would have traded her for more if he was in dire need. It is certainly an insult to a gender that could be used as barter item. Whereas, his daughter is also aware of his acts and knows that he would ask for money if he is present in somewhere respectable.

Evidence from Act III

In Act III , the character of Clara Eynsford Hill is forbidden by her mother to not to use any unladylike words. It again represents that women do not utter any cuss words that could harm her femininity. She has to be very appropriate in not only her appearance, but also in her speech as well, even if she does not want to or want to adopt it as a fashion. Feminism totally deplores the idea of women doing something that they do not want to. Though, Higgins motivates Clara to use these words at home with his younger siblings and she has a spark of revolution within herself too.

Evidence from Act IV

In Act IV, the meaningful behaviour of Higgins and Pickering hurt Eliza. She was taken as an object for the experiment. Since for both Higgins and Pickering, Eliza won the bet, but she was not appreciated anywhere. They entirely ignored her efforts and her work that she put in all those six months. She did not only reformed herself, but it was entirely so genuine too. It proves that a woman and her hard work was not to take seriously. Instead they kept on discussing about the strained they had been under.

Evidence in Act V

In ACT V, it is evident that Eliza is taking a stand for herself and rejecting the notion that she would need Higgins to make her life better. She can be seen not trading her happiness in front of love. She decided to be with Freddy, who values her rather than being with Higgins, who insults her even if him adores her. Higgins is like denying her physical existence every now and then, which is unacceptable by Eliza. Higgins: You let her alone, mother. Let her speak for herself. You will jolly soon see whether she has an idea that I haven’t put into her head or a word that I haven’t put into her mouth. I tell you I have created this thing out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent Garden; and now she pretends to play the fine lady with me.

It is clear that Higgins is proud of his ‘product’ that is Eliza and is pretty sure that she cannot utter a word beyond the knowledge that he has provided her. With these words, we can see that she is only considered as the flower girl who is trying to be an imposter as a fine lady. This is an offensive behaviour towards a person who has worked hard in improvising herself.

Conclusion of literary analysis of Pygmalion from Feminism lens

Conclusively, we can observe that under the feminist literary theory, Ovid’s Pygmalion worked biased towards women. Although, in Shaw’s Pygmalion, we have come across the strong characters like Mrs. Higgins, Mrs. Pearce, and even Eliza herself. She denies receiving any sort of sympathy that would show her as the weak person rather she chose to reject Higgins because of his ill behaviour with her. As a female, she is offered with the options that she has to pick in order to maintain her social status, which verifies the conduct with women here. Pygmalion highlighted many of such issues via the face of Eliza that many of us would be normalizing on a daily basis in the society. There is certainly a need to speak against such issue and demolish them in order to gain respect for the female gender.

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