Pygmalion – the significance of accents and the characters of Eliza and Henry

When we think about the manners of speaking when it comes to people, often times we judge them based on not only their accents but the words they use. We often times use manner of speaking to categorize people. It is often said that we judge a person as soon as we see them, whether we intend to or not as it is simply the inner need to categorize and manners of speaking are often times taken into account in this categorizing process.

Accents are often used to identify the roots of a person. For example a British accent for British citizens, and a Southern Accent for those located in the South of North America. We also associate class with accents of people. Those with a southern accent or drawl often times are not regarded with the same respect as those for example with a British accent. A southern drawl is associated with “Hillbillies” and therefore those with this type of accent are not regarded with the same respect. In the same way those with a British are regarded to be intelligent and knowledgeable due to the class given by their accent. Accents are used to judge people due to the connotations they hold, a British accent is seen as cultured and their words are enunciated showing class while a southern drawl uses much slang and words are not clipped precisely. Through identifying the roots we make judgements or we place the person in a category which we see fit.

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Words or dialect are often also used to determine the class of an individual. Sticking to the prior example of a Southern drawl, they are often known to use the words “y’all” and “Ain’t” which many consider a sign of low intelligence. Whereas not only are the British known for their high-class vernacular, they are also known to use words correctly without having their meanings evolve. For example the word “mad” is now often used in reference to anger, whereas it is a common British used word that means mad in connotation to crazy. In this sense dialect is used to categorize people.

In the senses shown above, dialect and accents are often used to show how we view or judge an individual. Although it is in a sense judgemental it is human natures for us to assume those with a British accent are classier than those with a Southern accent.

Response Questions (1)

1) Eliza Doolittle – She is the protagonist as most argue as she develops a great character change. Eliza in the beginning is quite defensive and in a way innocent. She believes for example that Higgins in the beginning is taking notes in order to put her in jail and she creates a large scene because she feels vulnerable and targeted by the man. She often cries “oo-we-ooo” when she feels targeted or hurt, which she does none of after her transformation. She believes, naively, that a lot of people are trying to be against her or hurt her in some way. She is also determined to be a “good girl” whom she views as a person who does not chase money but instead works hard for what she earns. She is confused when Higgins informs her that she will live with him and all her expenses will be paid for, she is afraid that she will be hurt and innocently believes Higgins when he informs her that she will be beheaded if she was to be found out for the fraud she would soon commit.

Later on Eliza begins to feel more confident and her passionate side grows more as she doesn’t cry in pain every time she is hurt or insulted. She is confident in her abilities as we see from the transformation when she converses with Mrs. Higgins and her guests. She grows strong despite Higgins’s insults directed toward her accent and vocabulary. She becomes a more independent character as she throws Higgins’s shoe at him as an act of defiance when he neglects her, something she would have wanted to but never would have done prior to her transformation. She becomes more courageous as the play progresses when she runs away from Higgins and spends the night with Freddy. However a part of her is still the same innocent person who thinks her aunt was killed so that someone could have her hat. Liza remains innocent however she becomes braver and less defensive. Shaw would categorize Liza as a dynamic character of interest and humour as Liza is quite amusing in her daily antics but she is also quite intelligent by the manner in which she picks up on changing her cockney accent. She is also brave and fierce despite her poverty and her survival makes her admirable.

2) Henry Higgins, also a debatable protagonist of the novel, is a teacher of dialects ad accents. He works with Eliza for a bet that entails he makes her like a duchess. Henry is very confident, however he is also determined and uncaring. Henry believes that he can make anyone into what he wants using his skills, which is shown when he makes the bet with Pickering. He believes he can make even a common flower girl into a duchess or seeming royalty. His determination is also showed here as he works hours on end to make Eliza into what he wants. Higgins is very uncaring of those around him although he means no ill harm directly; he simply does not notice how he hurts others’ feelings.

For example when he completely disregards Eliza after the party where she was claimed royalty, he does not appreciate her or understand her when she tries to explain it to him. When Eliza expresses her concern that she would have nowhere to go after the bet was completed, Higgins is nearly indifferent to her concern. Shaw meant for Higgins to be a dynamic character that created frustration due to his indifference to people, however Higgins is also very likeable based on his very frank thoughts and opinions. He creates great interest in the play with his intelligence and dry humour and we as an audience grow to like Higgins despite his flaws.

Creative Option

Stage Directions to Higgins when he speaks to Pickering at his home as Eliza walks in.

Director – “I want you to be tall and straight. Your shoulders should be leaning back a little but your feet need to have a little click to it. You’re aloof but serious, you don’t have a care. You’re rich and you love your job, you know you’re incredibly smart so I want some arrogance but you also have to be a bit oblivious. When Eliza cries in front of you after the story about being beheaded you shouldn’t notice the real pain, but just be a little annoyed she is speaking. Walk around, confidently.

When you eat some chocolate I want you to look at it, as though inspecting it before throwing it into your mouth casually. When you feed Eliza, I have already told her she must look a tad fearful, I want you to grab her face as though she is of little importance to you and put the chocolate in her mouth. Don’t be cruel, or have any intention to hurt her. You hold no malice, you simply don’t care because Eliza means nothing to you. She was a part in your notes like hundreds of others and that is it, Eliza is a gutter girl that smells and sells flowers, but you don’t hate her. Remember to show that it is not her appearance that truly disgusts you but her weak personality. When you walk around the room your hands should be in your pockets casually, have a frank sort of face.”

Higgins’s actor – “So I am a mean person but not intentionally, I am humorous like a boy with my light gait and I have an ego. But my ego does not define me.”

Director – “Good, now remember be confident but do not be uptight. Higgins’s character is aloof and confident and snarky but he is not uptight in any way. Good luck.”

I chose to do Higgins’s character because I found that Higgins’s could often be misinterpreted. I don’t in anyway believe, as shown above, that Higgins holds malice or wants to hurt anyone in any way I simply think he doesn’t understand people’s emotions as most would. He has no concern for weak people in his opinion but I believe he also is a kind man as he does in the end seem to care for Eliza as a friend. He is not a mean man purposely, he simply doesn’t understand that he is mean because he knows himself to just be honest. He is also a confident person as showed many times in the play, for example when he claims that the only reason Eliza was able to be a duchess was because of his skill and not her determination, however his ego isn’t massive as he does understand that Eliza was a good student with a good ear as she learnt how to speak like a duchess.

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