Study Guide

Pygmalion Statue (Galatea)

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Statue (Galatea)

Ah, Galatea. So pretty! So flawless! So incapable of moving or speaking!

After Pygmalion swears off real women, the statue he creates is supposedly the most beautiful thing in the world. By that, the Greek writers mean that her face was pretty, her skin was smooth, and she had a "virginal" quality to her. Ah, Greeks.

For modern readers, these descriptions are problematic for several reasons. First, they create unrealistic standards of beauty. Second, they link being a "good woman" to being passive, silent, and sex-free. And third, with their focus on her ivory skin, they imply that being white is a big part of being beautiful. Yikes.

Anyway, despite the statue's quietness (or perhaps because of it, which is unfortunate), Pygmalion falls in love with this non-lady. And when Aphrodite transforms her into a real woman—who 18th-century authors named Galatea—her human form is demure and innocent. So honestly, there really wasn't that much difference between the statue and the real live lady. The biggest distinction we're given is that she could finally talk and give birth to children.

Happily Ever After?

When Pygmalion wakes up for the first time ever, there's a random dude hugging and kissing her. Although we don't get to hear her reaction to this, it's apparently fine with her, because she ends up marrying the guy and having two children with him.

But later authors complicate this happy ending. In George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle (the "statue" character), actually rejects Henry Higgins (the Pygmalion character). Rather than marry Higgins, Eliza straight-up leaves, and even threatens to go into business against him. She is now his equal, which infuriates Higgins, who has cherished his higher status throughout the play. In My Fair Lady—the musical adaptation of the play—the ending is a bit more ambiguous, as Higgins and Eliza consider getting together.

When it comes to creating or re-packaging women, pop culture has got it covered. In fact, there's an entire TV trope dedicated to using the Pygmalion plot. Enjoy perusing that gem!

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