by George Bernard Shaw
Pygmalion Theme of Identity
Every single day we talk about ourselves, saying "I did this," "I did that," "I am," and "I'm not," but we don't usually think about what "I" means. In Pygmalion, Shaw forces us to think this through. Some characters want to change who they are, others don't want to change at all. Things get even more complicated when identities are made up, constructed. The play wants us to ask ourselves what I really means to think about different versions of the self, and whether that self can ever really be changed.
Questions About Identity
- We watch Eliza change in a number of ways throughout Pygmalion: she learns how to speak properly, she begins dressing differently, etc. But does she ever lose her old self, her old identity? Can we really say what her old identity is anyway?
- On the other hand, can we ever really be sure that identity is fixed? Does Eliza's transformation call into question the way we view the self? Are there any characters who seem totally and completely comfortable with themselves and their personalities?
- What are the different ways in which the characters define themselves? For instance, do they compare themselves to other groups? Do they allow their class to define them, or their jobs? Are they even conscious of their own identities?
- Why the heck is Eliza so afraid that people will think she's not a "good girl"?
Chew on This
Eliza's identity is, from the very beginning, fixed. It is only her circumstances that change.
Higgins's reluctance to change reflects a deep insecurity in regard to identity, an insecurity fostered by his own life-changing abilities.