This one may seem like a no-brainer: Pygmalion's all about turning a poor girl into a duchess, right? Well, sure, and Eliza's metamorphosis is stunning. You could even go so far as to call it a Cinderella story. But remember: Cinderella turned back into a poor girl before she finally found her prince. Pay attention and you'll notice that not all the attempts at transformation here are successful. There are plenty of false starts and false endings. By play's end, Shaw's made one thing very clear: be careful what you wish for.
Questions About Transformation
- Higgins and Pickering tell Mrs. Higgins that Eliza is an incredibly quick learner. They even call her a genius. Who, then, deserves more credit for Eliza's transformation: Eliza herself, because of her potential intelligence, or Higgins, for bringing it out?
- Why is Higgins so keen on teaching Eliza? Can we ever really understand his real motives? If so, what are they?
- Eliza tells Colonel Pickering that "her real education" began when Colonel Pickering began treating her like a lady (5.134). Do you agree with her? Can you think of any alternative "beginnings"?
Chew on This
Pygmalion is ultimately a story about the transformative, and sometimes problematic, power of education.
In Pygmalion, Shaw asserts that nature, not nurture, is the more important factor in the development of intelligence and skill.