by George Bernard Shaw
Pygmalion Theme of Language and Communication
We hear language in all its forms in Pygmalion: everything from slang and "small talk," to heartfelt pleas and big talk about soul and poverty. Depending on the situation, and depending on whom you ask, language can separate or connect people, degrade or elevate, transform or prevent transformation. Language, we learn, doesn't necessarily need to be "true" to be effective; it can deceive just as easily as it can reveal the truth. It is, ultimately, what binds Pygmalion together, and it pays to read carefully; even something as small as a single word can define a person.
Questions About Language and Communication
- Why does Eliza start speaking in her old manner when she gets emotional? What does this say about her training? Or about Higgins's abilities as a teacher?
- Higgins doesn't always use the kindest words when addressing Eliza. Given that language is so important to him, can we believe it when he says he treats all men in the same way?
- At Mrs. Higgins's party, Freddy and Clara confuse Eliza's normal way of speaking for "the new small talk." What does this say about the way language works in different contexts?
Chew on This
Pygmalion represents Shaw's attempt to not just use words and language to create art and raise questions, but to force readers to examine the power and purpose of language itself.
Reading Pygmalion, we come to learn that communication is about more than words, and everything from clothing to accents to physical bearing can affect the way people interact with each other.