In Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw uses two techniques to reveal the character of Henry Higgins. We see Higgins as he is through his own words and actions and we also see him through other characters. The way other characters in the play respond to and perceive Hnery Higgins helps the audience to see every aspect of Higgins’ personality.
The first time we meet Henry Higgins is in act one, where he is mistaken as “a copper’s nark” act ,page . The other characters in the scene respond suspiciously to Higgins when a bystander points out that he has been taking notes in what the flower girl had been saying. Higgins explains to the gentleman what he is doing: “simply phonetics. The science of speech. That’s my profession; also my hobby.” act , page However, throughout the play it becomes clear that it is neither his job, not his hobby but his obsession.
Higgins’ obsession with phonetics is shown in his new experiment with the flower girl, Liza. He tells her that she is to live with him for six months, ‘learning to speak beautifully’ until she can be passed off as a Duchess. It becomes clear in act three that Higgins is consumed in his project with Liza: “As if I ever stop thinking about the girl and her confounded vowels and consonants.” act three, page sixty three. This emphasises the fact that Higgins sees Liza as no more than an experiment and also has no insight into the predicament of Liza at the end of the project. It is obvious to both Mrs Higgins and Mrs Pearce that Liza cannot be discarded when Higgins has finished his challenge, but he does not understand their concerns.
Higgins fails to value Liza as a person. As Mrs Higgins comments: “You certainly are a pretty pair of babies playing with you live doll.” act 3, page 63
Higgins is mostly presented as a person with little respect for anyone other than himself. This is not entirely true. Though he clearly shows if he dislikes a person, he cannot understand that this is rude, “Oh, have I been rude? I didn’t mean to be.” act ,page
Higgins is shown as an honest charater and his honesty can be percieved as rudeness. However, it is one of his character strengths and the audience may admire his attitude of saying what he feels and telling it how it his.
This immature behavious is one of the paradoxes of the play. Higgins continues to act like a child throughout the play by his inability to tell right from wrong. When around his mother, Higgins acts like a child and Mrs. Higgins responds by treating him like one, giving him orders to which he obeys. However, when he is around Liza he acts as a father figure, bringing her up to be a proper lady and guiding her along the way. However, Liza also seems to be able to bring out the childish nature in Higgins. This is made clearer as Liza changes throughout the story. Though Higgins sees Liza as below him “so deliciously low”act ,page she is better mannered than he. Liza’s ability to change herself makes Higgins’ stubborness and unchanging character stand out.
Though Higgins is a gentleman by social status, there is no evidence in the play that he behaves as one. He is not proper in the way he acts when they have company. In act he casually stretches his legs and begins to whistles, thought he believes he is “perfectly behaving” himself. His lack of manners and social decorum make him a vehicle for humour. His blunt insults “you squashed cabbage leaf” are amusing to the audience and that makes Higgins a likeable character.
Shaw shows Higgins as a friend through Colonel Pickering. In act 1, when both characters meet, they are each familiar with the others work. Through Pickering it is shown that Higgins does respect others. He treats Pickering as an equal because of the work that he has done. Higgins admires him and respects his work. The way that Higgins refers to him as “Pick” is showing his ability to be friendly and give nicknames. Higgins values Pickering’s opinion.
Higgins friendship with Colonel Pickering may appeal to the audience because it lets them know that he’s like everybody else and he needs companions.
Though the audience mostly sees Henry Higgins as being rude and disrespectful to Liza, Higgins is just treating her as he would any other student, because that is all she is to him. He does not count Liza as a friend, he sees her as a project that he merely needs to complete and discard.
In all situations Higgins believes himself to be right. As Liza’s teacher he sees himself cleverer than her and therefore what he thinks is correct and what she thinks is nonsense. This is also shown in situations with other characters. Higgins’ arrogance may turn the audience against him as he sees himself so high and mighty above everyone else.
Pygmalion is seen as a cinderella story and Geogre Bernard Shaw wrote Higgins in the manner of a fairy godmother. Higgins is the one who transforms Liza into a lady and her change brings along the love of Freddy. However, Shaw twisted the story so Higgins would also fall in love with Liza. When he realises his feelings he also realises that he is lacking something in himself that has prevented him from marrying anyone.
The audience may feel for Henry Higgins when he is rejected by Liza as it lets them see that he is not completely blind to emotion, he just doesn’t know how to express them. They will see Higgins real self and will empathise with him. This rejection from Liza at the end of the play is the turning point of how the audience is going to feel about Higgins. They may sympathise as they have felt the same way as him, or they may think it serves him right.
I think that members of the audience can sympathise with Henry Higgins as the play goes on. Aspects of his character â€“ his lack of empathy, his anger, his arrogance â€“ may turn the audience against him at first. But as the story progresses his honest, humourous insults and childlike attitude make Higgins a character that people love to hate.