Pygmalion : Character
Alfred Doolittle is Eliza's father, a dustman or garbage collector, and basically a bum who sponges off others for drinking money. He should be of the working class, a construction worker by trade, but lives in the slums with his missis. He confesses Eliza is illegitimate, and he refuses to support her. Alfred has a rhetorical and persuasive way of speaking about moral and political topics in his lower-class dialect. He is fully aware of the mechanisms of the class system. He is happy as he is until Higgins writes to an American millionaire, Wannafeller, who leaves Alfred money to lecture on morality. This turns him into a middle-class man who has to marry his missis and give to others, to his regret. Alfred is clever and charming but not especially warm as a human being.
Eliza Doolittle is the flower girl whom Higgins turns into a lady by changing her lower- class dialect into proper standard English. She is given clothes by Colonel Pickering, a home with Higgins, and taught proper manners and speech. After six months of intense training, she passes as a lady at the embassy ball where she is thought to be an aristocrat in disguise. Eliza is ambitious in wanting to raise herself. She is pronounced very bright in how she catches on to everything, with an even finer ear than Higgins himself. Eliza is affectionate and caring, wanting to have a personal relationship with Higgins and Pickering, but this is somewhat difficult because Higgins never forgets her origin and does not take women seriously. Pickering becomes something of a father to her, sponsoring her, encouraging her, and treating her with respect. She gives him credit for turning her into a lady. Eliza begins as a person with little self-control and indulges in outbursts. She not only changes, she also matures into a thinking, feeling, young woman, able to make up her own mind. The Epilogue shows she has not been prepared, however, for life in her new state. When she tries to run a flower shop, for instance, she is ignorant of business practice and must take courses on the subject. Eliza is admirable in her desire to make something of her life. We are told she remains friends with Higgins, but she is somewhat adversarial with him, always having to stand up for herself. She marries Freddy because he is young, handsome, in love with her, and easier for her to dominate, since he was not trained to be anything.
Henry Higgins is the main character of the play and therefore, a somewhat complex and realistically rounded figure with contradictory traits. He is idealistic, wanting to change society to give people equal opportunities. He scorns the hypocrisy of social manners and customs. He does not like pretension and is overly direct in his manners and speech. Eliza points out that she had to learn self-control but Higgins never does. Though forty in the play, he acts like a rebellious teenager, saying things to shock and swearing whenever he feels like it. He is rude to people and speaks negatively of them. On the other hand, he is generous to Eliza, and volunteers six months of his life to teach her. He remains friends with her after she marries. In fact, in the last scene it is apparent he is fond of her and used to her competent handling of his affairs. He would like her to live with him permanently though it is a somewhat odd proposal, for he would like to live as three bachelors, with Eliza and Pickering.
Henry's mother hopes he will fall in love, but he never goes for young women, she complains. He only likes women over forty-five. He is a mother's boy and can never find anyone to replace her in his life. Higgins does not appear to care much for women and finds them silly. He believes in women's rights, but he does not practice what he preaches. He likes to give Eliza orders and bully her. An educated man and professor, Higgins is both a scientist, a specialist in phonetics, and a person of culture, speaking always of Shakespeare and Milton as his ideals. Higgins likes to play jokes, as he got Doolittle the inheritance by writing to Wannafeller that he could lecture on morals. In short, Higgins is set in his ways. He claims he learns something from Eliza at the end and recognizes her as a person. He seems sorry she will leave his house. This seems to be genuine, though Eliza believes he is trying to manipulate her and rejects his plans for her.
Mrs. Higgins is Henry's mother, probably age sixty or so. Higgins likes his mother better than other women, and it is easy to see why. She lives a comfortable upper-class life of culture and is on easy terms with everyone, whether it is Doolittle the dustman, or the bishop. She sees through her son and tries to give him common sense guidance, but on the other hand, when he is foolish, she accepts him and indulges him. He no doubt likes it that she is not pretentious and speaks her mind out as he does, but she is polite, sympathetic, wise, and kind. According to Shaw's stage directions, she got her liberal mind in her youth when she was brought up on the art of William Morris (1834-1896 ) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898). These are Pre-Raphaelite artists, who loved the beauty and design in art before the painter Raphael. Their paintings and textiles are brightly colored, beautifully designed, and mythical in subject matter. They were inspired by medieval arts and wanted to go back to handcrafts, rebelling against the industrial age. They founded the radical Aesthetic Movement of the 1860s and 1870s, the avant-garde of their day, in lifestyle, art, and social ideas. Morris was a socialist, and so Henry may have imbibed his ideas at his mother's knee. Mrs. Higgins has William Morris wallpapers and drapes and paintings of Burne-Jones on her wall, identifying her as an unusual woman of particular taste for the time. Most women her age would be conventionally Victorian. She is kind to Eliza, but Eliza knows she cannot compete with her.
Clara Eynsford-Hill is the sister of Freddy. She is seen in the company of her mother and brother in Covent Garden and at Mrs. Higgins's at-home day. Clara is somewhat awkward, trying to fit in and doing it by trying to be fashionable. Her mother, however, confesses to Mrs. Higgins that they are poor and Clara gets invited to few parties. This is serious in this day when a woman's only career was finding a suitable marriage. Clara has no prospects. When Higgins meanly tells her that it is fashionable to say “bloody” now, she falls for his joke and goes out happy to practice the new small talk at the next house. The epilogue explains she is not taken seriously by society, and her life does not look bright. She would have been a Victorian spinster. However, since it is the twentieth century, she takes a different direction when she gets a job and goes to socialist meetings, becoming instead a type of the “new woman.”
Freddy falls in love with Eliza and hangs around the Wimpole street flat waiting to see her. He writes her love letters. Higgins laughs when Eliza says she will marry Freddy, for he is a poor gentleman without money or profession. Eliza does not mind. She will work, for he has been brought up a gentleman. He is pliable, whereas Higgins is immovable. Freddy is young and wants Eliza as a man wants a woman, not as Higgins wants a servant. She sees the advantage. She is affectionate by nature and likes someone loving her. When they marry they try to make a go of a flower business, but neither is capable. To Freddy's credit, he is willing to be part of the working class and to take business courses. The only reason he and Eliza succeed is because of the Colonel's financial backing.
Mrs. Eynsford-Hill is a foil to Mrs. Higgins. She is a conventional middle-class lady, who is trying to bring up her children in a genteel fashion without means. She appears to be a widow. In most of her scenes she is the person of Victorian morality who gets shocked.
Nepommuck is a Hungarian linguist who boasts he knows 32 languages. He was a student of Higgins's but uses his knowledge of linguistics to blackmail people who have disguised their lower-class origins. He spies for hostesses who want to know who their guests are. He is the shadow and foil of Higgins, showing that knowledge of language can be used for both good and ill. Nepommuck is the main adversary at the ball, but he is not able to detect Eliza's background. He claims she is a Hungarian princess in disguise.
Mrs. Pearce is the middle-aged housekeeper at Higgins's flat in Wimpole Street. She is competent and though she has tried to leave many times, she seems to fall for Higgins's charm when he turns it on. She knows him and his bad behavior thoroughly, even so familiar as to scold him like his mother when he is being thoughtless or impractical. She befriends Eliza and warns her against trusting Higgins completely.
Colonel Pickering is a linguist of Indian dialects, picked up as an interest when he was stationed in India. In London, he moves in with Higgins, for professional reasons initially so they can study together, and then as friends who are working on the Eliza experiment. Pickering is a foil to Higgins because though he is a linguist, he is not obsessed like Higgins, nor is he rude and rebellious. He has a conventional streak, admitting he enjoys going to the embassy ball. He is a complete gentleman in his behavior and outlook. He is kind to Eliza from the beginning, encouraging her by treating her seriously as a person. He becomes like a father, supporting her and Freddy in their early married life. He and Higgins are alike only in their love of linguistics and their bachelorhood.