Society, Superficiality, and the Lessons of Pygmalion 12th Grade

In comparing the Edwardian era - that is, the early 20th century - to the modern age, we can see that some distinct social constructs and class systems are present in both. However, social and class-related barriers are noticeably more porous in today’s world. George Bernard Shaw’s most famous play Pygmalion, set in Edwardian times, was perhaps a harbinger of this progressive shift, in its vigorous attempts to discredit and expose the superficiality of the class separations. The ‘heroine’ of the play, Eliza Doolittle, undergoes a dramatic and severe transformation from a ‘draggletailed guttersnipe’ to an unrecognizably polished lady, but she ultimately fails to integrate smoothly into the society which she so idolized at the play’s beginning. It is established and perpetuated throughout the play that Eliza is not exactly a predictable character: for a poor flower girl, she upholds moral decency and exhibits self-respect to a degree perhaps not even mirrored by the upper class with which these values were more commonly associated. Through the character of Eliza, and the treatment of Eliza by the upper class, Shaw exposes the superficiality of a class system which, in his view, is underpinned by a very shallow preoccupation with...

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