The Role Of Women In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion

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“I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft

The position of women in society has been touched upon by many authors. This is also the case for George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, a play premiered in 1913. It’s not a coincidence that this work was written in the Edwardian era. In this era, women’s rights were practically nonexistent. Women had no political rights, nor did they have a voice in their personal lives and decisions. In Pygmalion, Shaw has borrowed from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Goethe’s Faust to accentuate the position of women in the Edwardian era.

The most obvious reference is the link to one of Ovid’s works, Metamorphoses. Not only does the one of the characters
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It can’t come as a surprise that Shaw, an avid admirer of Ibsen, drew inspiration from this work. Nora, the protagonist in A Doll’s House, is absolutely outraged when she finds out her husband didn’t stay by her side and essentially treated her like an everyday object. She describes her situation as, “I have been your doll-wife, just as at home I was papa 's doll-child.” Her circumstances appear to be congruent with Eliza’s. One of Eliza’s lines describes, “I 'm a slave now, for all my fine clothes.” The fact that she mentions her realization that she’s a slave, seems to be identical to Nora’s situation. Infuriated as she is, she leaves Higgins behind, just like Nora left her husband. Not to mention that Higgins’ mother even made a direct link to Ibsen’s work, “You certainly are a pretty pair of babies, playing with your live doll.” Yet again, this could be seen as a simile of the position of women in the male-dominated society. Women in the Edwardian era were indeed slaves to their marriage, having little to no voice in any decision whatsoever. Mentioning that she was in fact a doll, much alike Nora’s situation, was an eye-opener for the upper-class audience that Pygmalion was shown towards. Higgins was not only forcing societies’ wishes on her, he also was “dressing Eliza”, just like a…show more content…
In Faust, the protagonist with an identical name to its’ title, is extremely discontent with his life. The devil, Mephisto, decides to take advantage of the situation and tries to make an offer; he will serve Faust on Earth, in return for his soul in the afterlife. Even though Pygmalion doesn’t seem to be a religious work at first glance, Shaw has certainly incorporated religious elements in to his work. Not only to draw lines between Eliza and Faust, but also to appeal to his 1910s religious audience, despite not being religious himself. Eliza’s position, and indirectly the position of women in the Edwardian era, is closely related to Faust’s situation. Shaw describes that Higgins is “tempting the girl”, exactly like Mephisto tempted Faust. Eliza essentially sells her soul to Higgins and society. The antagonist, in this case the latter, could be seen as a metonymy for the devil. As the story progresses, so does Eliza’s character. The realization of her mistreatment gradually comes to her. At some point, she admits, “I sold flowers. I didn 't sell myself. Now you 've made a lady of me, I 'm not fit to sell anything else. I wish you 'd left me where you found me.” The fact that her life is someone else’s property and the fact that she practically didn’t have a voice in society, nor in Higgins’ ways of changing her, clearly demonstrates the congruity between Eliza’s position and the reality
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