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Pygmalion

A book review for parents

This play by George Bernard Shaw is published by Penguin Group and is written for adults but sometimes studied by high school classes.

Plot Summary


Henry Higgins, professor of phonetics, judges the people he meets by their dialect. Along with colleague Colonel Pickering, Henry takes in a lower-class flower girl (Eliza Doolittle) and bets he can pass her off as a duchess after several months of intense language training. The colonel and the professor successfully transform Eliza's speech and mannerisms, but inside, Liza is undergoing a transformation of her own. When the bet is won and the project is complete, the men are surprised to find that Liza is a human being with feelings, emotional needs and concerns about her future. As she prepares to take her leave, Liza informs Henry that what makes a flower girl a duchess is not how she's taught to behave, but the way she's treated.



Christian Beliefs


None. There is some discussion of class morality, but it is never related to spirituality.



Authority Roles


Professor Higgins, whose distaste for propriety is evident, focuses on projects, not people. He embarrasses his mother in front of her friends because he lacks manners, and his impersonal nature causes him to bully and emotionally wound Eliza. Colonel Pickering, though somewhat oblivious to the fact that his game with Henry may damage someone else, at least treats Eliza with some dignity and acknowledges her womanhood. Henry's mother steps in and defends Eliza when Henry's and Pickering's disregard drives the girl to run away. Eliza's father, Mr. Doolittle, takes little responsibility for his daughter — or any aspect of life but drinking — until money "forces" him to become a responsible citizen.



Other Belief Systems


None



Profanity/Graphic Violence


Professor Higgins uses variations of d--n a dozen times. He also uses the words a-- and slut.



Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality


Henry's maid, Eliza's father and others feel it's improper for Henry to keep an unmarried girl in his home because of what people will think. When Henry first invites Eliza to stay, she rejects what she believes to be an inappropriate suggestion by saying, "I'm a good girl, I am!" In reality, no sexual impropriety is present.



Awards


Unknown



Discussion Topics


If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Did Eliza transform into a different person mainly because she learned how to speak differently, or did something else change in her? Explain.
  • What did you think of the way Professor Higgins and Colonel Pickering tried to create Eliza "in their own image?"
  • Did they help her by reinventing her?
    Or did they just make her life more complicated?
  • How might this apply to Christians?
  • How can we ensure that, when we share the Gospel, we point others to Christ rather than trying to make them like us?
  • What did you learn about gender and class inequalities during this time period?
  • Do these prejudices still exist today? Give some examples.
  • Do you think Henry and Eliza will end up together? Why or why not?
  • Eliza felt like a duchess only when she was treated like one, not because she could speak or behave like one.
    Do you think it's possible to make individuals better by treating them better than they're used to being treated?
  • How did Jesus treat the "least of these" in His society?


Note: Shaw won the 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

 

 
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