Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw is a modern drama that deals with the importance and role oflanguage with accurate accent and the social manners in human life. It is the story of a “commonignorant” flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, who has a horrible accent and “disgusting sounds”. Shewants to improve her accent, so that she may be able to work at a better place rather than sellingflowers on passing tracts. To accomplish her desire of leading a better life by learning a properlanguage, she meets two men of letters! Colonel Pickering, “a student of Indian dialects”, has theappearance of “military type”; and Professor Henry Higgins, a master of phonetics possessingthe features of “the energetic scientific type”. They both take the responsibility to teach this girl.In a short span of six months her accent is improved and gets accurate enough to be understoodby all people. Now, on account of refining her mode of speech, her entire life style is changed.Hence, she acquires the status of a respectable lady rather than being a poor flower girl.In light of above quotation, Shaw has created the notion of willfulness in his play Pygmalion. Hisdrama portrays willfulness by depicting the willful attitude of women in contrast to previouseras. This depiction of women is not due to feminist agenda, but his notion about life force andthe superman have helped him to provide a new picture of women. These notions, and not thefeminist ideas, have enabled him to portray both men and women on equal level.The term willfulness is used to denote the determination or will power to create somethingdifferent. It also gives the meaning of stubbornness or revolt against prevailing norms andtraditions. In previous dramas all the writers used to depict a particular picture of women. Theyportrayed women completely dependent on male members, acting upon all the rules and customsset by society without any right to revolt against social norms. Moreover, it was always assumedthat only men can bring about change or revolution for the betterment of society. At the end ofnineteen century, some writers rejected this tradition of writing by revolting against it. Theygave the notion New Woman.Shaw is one of those writers, who has given importance to the concept of New Woman in hisplay Pygmalion. He has given equal significance to both men and women. The women in hisplay are capable of leading a life independently according to their own choice. For instance, Mrs.Higgins is leading a free and happy life in spite of being an old lady. Women are able to earn forthemselves. Flower girl is shown to earn living for her. They have right to decide for themselves.In the play Eliza takes an important decision of her life by deciding about her marriage with Mr.
Freddy. Women are respectable in the eyes of men. Freddy respects his mother and sister.Higgins also gives value to his mother. In addition, women have a right to preserve theirindividuality. For example, at one occasion Colonel Pickering says to flower girl “you have aright to live where you please”. In short, the depiction of women in Shaw‟s play is totallydifferent from the depiction of women in the plays of earlier times. Women are shown willful bywalking side by side with men in all fields of life. Both are two significant wheels playing theirown roles to drive the motor of life.There are two main factors in Pygmalion that are responsible to portray willfulness or concept ofNew Woman.Life Force is a main feature due to which Shaw has given equal place to both men and women inhis play. In Shaw‟s era, Darwin‟s ideas about evolution and survival of the fittest wereconsidered to be the matters of great importance. But, Shaw rejected these ideas and hedeveloped his notion of Life Force by taking support from the views of Buffon, Lamarck andSamuel Butler. According to Shaw, Life Force is a will, or a power, or determination of life thatstrives for achieving greatness in life. In J. O. Bailey‟s article Shaw‟s Life Force and ScienceFiction, Shaw‟s views about Life Force are discussed. In light of this article “All organism havea degree of consciousness, memory and will. If they try long and hard enough to develop an eye,a nose, a digestive tract, or the innate ability to ride a bicycle, they will eventually succeed, onegeneration passing on to another… a tiny residue of organic modification… which graduallyaccumulates until it suddenly produces the organ or instinct required”. Again, this Life Force orpower of life will “after aeons… produce something more complicated than man, that is,Superman: then… the Angel, the Archangel, and last of the entire omnipotent and omniscientGod”. Thus, Life Force is a natural will of life that moves people forward to achieve grater goalsof life without any discrimination of gender, caste, creed and color.This concept of Life Force is used for both men and women by Shaw. In the play, on one hand, itis the force of life due to which Mr. Pickering and Professor Higgins have gained fame in theeyes of many people. It is this force that compels them to visit different countries to share theirexperiences or ideas about sounds of speech, accents, dialects and pronunciation. Again it is theresult of this force that Mr. Doolittle, the father of flower girl, improves his life style bybecoming a gentleman far away from the life pattern of a „dustman‟.
On the other hand, this idea of Life Force has also changed the position of women in life. At thebeginning of drama Eliza is depicted as a common dirty girl. She is wearing untidy clothes. Herappearance has been depicted by Shaw in these words: “She is not at all an attractive person. Sheis perhaps eighteen, perhaps twenty, hardly older. She wears a little sailor hat of black straw thathas long been exposed to the dust and soot of London and has seldom if ever been brushed. Herhair needs washing rather badly: its mousy color can hardly be natural. She wears a shoddy blackcoat that reaches nearly to her knees and is shaped to her waist. She has a brown skirt with acoarse apron. Her boots are much the worse for wear. She has been called the “mud out of thegutter”. She speaks harshly. Her speech is not clear enough to be fully understood by people asHiggins comments on her speech pattern in these words:“You see this creature with her kerbstone English: the English that will keep her in the gutter tothe end of her days.”She is like “a pebble on the beach”. It is her will or determination of life which enables her toimprove her mood of speech. It is her passion of achieving greatness in life which makes her a“duchess” and a “master piece”. She has become a “tower of strength”. She has lost the titles of“millstone” and “ungrateful wicked” girl forever. With the betterment of speech, her entire lifestyle has improved. Now she belongs to the class of gentle ladies. She has become a rich lady,enjoying the facilities of eating chocolates, sitting in taxies and wearing gold. Hence, it is herdesire of leading a happy life that changes her mode of dressing, eating, speaking, behaving andthinking.Similarly, the character of Mrs. Higgins, the mother of Mr. Higgins, is another example thathighlights the importance of Life Force. It is the impact of this force that even at the age of sixty;she takes an interest in life. She is satisfied and happy. She is always found to be guiding her sonin respect of social manners. She has an interest in paintings. She keeps herself busy in writing.In short, on account of his belief in Life Force Shaw has portrayed willful picture of women andby creating willful picture of women he has given an equal status to both men and women.In view of Shaw, another idea that provides a different picture of women as compared to thewomen in previous dramas and the status of women equal to that of men is the concept ofSuperman. This term is associated with any person who has extraordinary mental or physical
capabilities. Usually this term is spoken for the heroes like Julius Caesar and Napoleon. Thesepeople are remembered for the acts of bravery and courage for the service of their nation. In viewof Shaw, this term is employed for both men and women. Any person, either man or woman,having Life Force can become a superman human being or any other higher creature.According to Shaw there are certain traits that are associated with the person bearing the name ofsuperman or superwoman. Heshe has superior intellect or artistic ability. Heshe uses hisherintellect for the service of mankind. Such people can be poets, philosophers, moralists orscholars belonging to any other field. They are sometimes seen cruel and harsh while guiding orteaching people. These people have no feelings and emotions so their fellow beings, rather theyare passionate just to make progress in their own profession. They have no respect for moral andsocial values and they react against the norms and traditions of society. Usually they believe intheir own creative values. In short, in respect of intelligence, character, manners and lifestyle,super human beings are above than average people.In Pygmalion, Shaw has given the status of super human being to both man and woman. On oneside, Professor Henry Higgins is the instance of superman. He is extraordinarily intelligent. Hehas full command on the knowledge of speech sounds. He has also interest in art, philosophy andclassical music. He uses his intellect to teach or correct the speech of common people. But, whileguiding people, he is sometimes seen behaving cruelly. For instance, while discussing aboutlinguistic affairs, he says to flower girl Eliza “if I decide to teach you, I will be worse than twofathers”. He has a wild passion for his subject of language while neglecting the feelings of otherpeople. His character is described as: “he is of the energetic scientific type, heartily and evenviolently interested in everything that can be studied as a scientific subject and careless abouthimself and other people including their feelings. He has no value for social manners. Forinstance he is in the habit of swearing. At one point, he throws his clothes on the floor. Inaddition, he has created his own values. It is his belief that the people, who have no knowledgehow to speak, have no right to live. Thus, he has super traits in both positive and negative aspect.In the play, Eliza Doolittle belongs to the category of superwoman. In every respect, she isdifferent from ordinary people. It is the impact of her super intelligence that even in a very shortduration of six months; her accent is refined to a great extent, despite being the fact that she istotally ignorant and uneducated. Being quiet intelligent, she performs well at every situation.
Again, it is her extreme intelligence and at the same times her passion for improving her life, thatshe completely changes her ways of life. She has no respect for moral and social manners thatare significant in view of other people. For instance, at numerous occasions, while talking sheutters the expression of “ah--ah--ah--ow--ow--ow—oo”. Then, at one time, she throws slipperson the face of Higgins despite being the fact that he is her teacher and guider. In addition, atvarious occasions, she is found to be revolting against prevailing norms and customs. Forinstance, unlike common woman she has lost respect for her father. She is not living in thecompany of her own parents. Even she herself decides about her marriage with Mr. Freddywithout any intervention of her parents. In short, in many aspects, she is fulfilling therequirement of being called a superwoman and due to this portrayal; Shaw has createdwillfulness in his drama.Om the whole, in view of Shaw, both men and women has numerous positive as well as negativetraits. If man is “book learned gentleman” woman can also have “idiomatic notions”. If womenare compared with “bilious pigeon” and they are tamed “like parrot”, men are also called “selfishpig”, “selfish brute” and “sentimental hog”. If one can preach, at the same time the other has alsoa right to teach. Both have their own private imaginations. Both are born equal. It is theconstruction of society to present women always negatively and always to give a positiveglimpse of men in all spheres of life. Otherwise, it is natural that men and women both possessgood and bad qualities. In view of Shaw, it is not the impact of feminist agenda due to which hehas portrayed a willful picture of women; rather he has just depicted the natural situation in hisplay by keeping in mind the beliefs of Life Force and the Superman. On account of willful ornew glimpse of women equal to that of men, his play also gives the concept of willfulnessagainst the writings of previous eras.