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Higgins' Philosophy


Professor Higgins is seen throughout Pygmalion as a very
rude man. While one may expect a well educated man, such as
Higgins, to be a gentleman, he is far from it. Higgins
believes that how you treated someone is not important, as
long as you treat everyone equally.
The great secret, Eliza, is not having bad manners or good
manners or any other particular sort of manners, but having
the same manner for all human souls: in short, behaving as
if you were in Heaven, where there are no third-class
carriages, and one soul is as good as another. -Higgins,
Act V Pygmalion. Higgins presents this theory to Eliza, in
hope of justifying his treatment of her. This theory would
be fine IF Higgins himself lived by it. Henry Higgins,
however, lives by a variety of variations of this
It is easily seen how Higgins follows this theory. He is
consistently rude towards Eliza, Mrs. Pearce, and his
mother. His manner is the same to each of them, in
accordance to his philosophy. However the Higgins we see at
the parties and in good times with Pickering is well
mannered. This apparent discrepancy between Higgins'
actions and his word, may not exist, depending on the
interpretation of this theory.
There are two possible translations of Higgins' philosophy.
It can be viewed as treating everyone the same all of the
time or treating everyone equally at a particular time.
It is obvious that Higgins does not treat everyone equally
all of the time, as witnessed by his actions when he is in
"one of his states" (as Mrs. Higgins' parlor maid calls
it). The Higgins that we see in Mrs. Higgins' parlor is not
the same Higgins we see at the parties. When in "the state"
Henry Higgins wanders aimlessly around the parlor,
irrationally moving from chair to chair, highly unlike the
calm Professor Higgins we see at the ball. Higgins does not
believe that a person should have the same manner towards
everyone all of the time, but that a person should treat
everyone equally at a given time (or in a certain
situation). When he is in "one of those states" his manner
is the same towards everyone; he is equally rude and
disrespectful to all. Yet when minding his manners, as he
does at the parties, he can be a gentleman.
If the second meaning of Higgins' theory, that he treats
everyone equally at a particular time, is taken as his
philosophy, there is one major flaw. Higgins never respects
Eliza, no matter who is around. In Act V of Pygmalion,
Eliza confronts him about his manner towards her. "He
(Pickering) treats a flower girl as duchess." Higgins,
replying to Eliza, "And I treat a duchess as a flower
girl." In an attempt to justify this Higgins replies "The
question is not whether I treat you rudely, but whether you
ever heard me treat anyone else better." Eliza does not
answer this question but the reader knows that Higgins has
treated others better than Eliza. At the parties, for
example, Higgins is a gentleman to the hosts and other
guest, but still treats Eliza as his "experiment."
Higgins could never see the "new" Eliza. Higgins only saw
the dirty flower girl that had become his "experiment."
Much like an author never sees a work as finished, Higgins
could not view Eliza lady or duchess. Since Higgins knew
where Eliza came from it was difficult for him to make her
parts fit together as a masterpiece that he respected.
Part of Higgins' problem in recognizing the "new" Eliza is
his immaturity. He does not see her as what she is, he only
sees her as what she was. This immaturity is representative
of Higgins' childish tendencies that the reader can see
throughout the play. Higgins' child-like actions can
partially explain the variations in his philosophy. Try to
imagine Higgins as a young teenager. A young Higgins, or
any teenage boy for that matter, has a very limited
outlook. They treat everyone the same; depending on the
situation they may be little gentlemen or rude dudes. When
around parents the teenager is rude and inconsiderate yet
when among his friends he a complete gentleman. The adult
Higgins' actions are the same as the child.


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