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Pygmalion

Pygmalion

by George Bernard Shaw

Analysis: What's Up With the Ending?

OK, this one's tough: the play ends with big argument between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle. We're not talking about a little quarrel here, but a heck of a fight. Eliza's already made Higgins plenty angry by leaving his house, and then proceeding to act all cheery and nice the next day. She's already given Pickering most of the credit for her transformation from flower girl to lady, and now, to top it all off, she's refusing to come back and live with Higgins. You see, Eliza doesn't know what to do with herself now that she's got an upper class accent, but no money, and no place to go.

Higgins doesn't seem too fazed by this. He tells her that, no, he doesn't mean to treat her poorly. He treats everyone poorly. It's just his way of being fair. Now, it's easy to be cynical and write Higgins off as a jerk. He does call Eliza a liar, a fool, an idiot, and (worst of all) a "damned impudent slut" (5.263); oh, and he almost strangles her too. But it's hard not to buy into what he's saying, at least a little bit, since he has such a beautiful way of putting things.

Eliza, herself, doesn't buy a lot of what he's saying. She doesn't seem convinced by the whole "I treat everyone like garbage" excuse. She's insulted by Higgins's offer to arrange a marriage with somebody rich. She's so annoyed by the whole thing that she starts making threats of her own. She tells Higgins that she'll marry Freddy if she has to (Higgins doesn't want his "masterpiece" wasted on such a lout). She even threatens to use her knowledge against him, to teach one of Higgins's competitors the methods she learned or – and this really ticks him off – to go into business for herself.

Strangulation nearly ensues before Higgins has a great realization. By finally learning to treat him poorly, Higgins believes that Eliza has finally become his equal. Again, this all seems a bit off, and Eliza herself isn't convinced. And why should she be? Hasn't Higgins been having these little realizations the whole time? (Recall his reaction to her arrival at Wimpole Street: "Oh, not this one again. Throw her out. No, wait, she'll be a wonderful little guinea pig. Let's have some fun, Pickering.") She has plenty of reasons not to trust him. Would you listen to someone talk like that if he or she had just tried to wring your neck? We know we wouldn't. She's got all these memories swirling around in her head now.

Eliza turns around to leave, telling Higgins "I shall not see you again. Good-bye" (5.270). Higgins isn't one to give up, however. He calls after her and tells her to pick up some groceries and fresh clothes. Higgins's mother, who's just come in to get Eliza, thinks he's crazy, but Higgins himself is sure. "She'll buy em all right enough," he tells his mother, "Good-bye."

Now, it seems like everything's up in the air at this point, right? Higgins is sure Eliza will come back but, well, he's been wrong before. Eliza seems to doubt the sincerity of Higgins's arguments, but on the other hand, he can be pretty persuasive. She, herself, has threatened to do a lot of things, like marry Freddy. But, come on, Freddy's a pretty big doofus. So, it's kind of a cliffhanger. Eliza is still left in a difficult position: she can't go back to selling flowers, but she doesn't want to sell herself, to marry into money. And Higgins won't meet her halfway…at least not yet. Is there romance hiding somewhere? And if not, why not?

Not according to Shaw. He wrote a "Sequel" to Pygmalion and, like most sequels, it's not nearly as good as the original. It's just a really long explanation of what happens. It "need not be shewn in action," he says. Shaw just wants us to know that everybody reading the play is silly and sentimental, and, no, Higgins and Eliza aren't reunited. Instead, she marries Freddy and they open a flower shop and they pretty much live happily ever after. We here at Shmoop say forget about the sequel and go with your gut. You can do better than that.

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