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Themes and Colors
Language and Speech Theme Icon
Appearance and Identity Theme Icon
Social Class and Manners Theme Icon
Education and Intelligence Theme Icon
Femininity and Gender Roles Theme Icon
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Education and Intelligence Theme Icon

Two of the play's main characters—Higgins and Pickering—are academics. Shaw in some sense pits their intellectual intelligence against the wits of others, like Eliza. Early in the play, Eliza is intimidated and confused by Higgins' academic language. However, while characters like Eliza, Mrs. Higgins, and Mr. Doolittle lack the kind of education that Higgins and Pickering have had, the play reveals them to be smart in their own ways. Eliza, for example, turns out to be a quick learner and a very good pupil, easily winning Higgins' bet for him. And although Mrs. Higgins is confined in the play to her own home, she displays a kind of social savvy in integrating Eliza with her other guests in Act Three and in helping to resolve things (to the extent that they can be resolved) at the play's conclusion. Finally, Higgins may scoff at the lowly Mr. Doolittle early in the play, but he is the only character who voices criticisms of "middle class morality" and articulates some of the problems with the Victorian social hierarchy. Thus, while Higgins and Pickering might appear to be the play's two educated, intelligent characters, different characters exemplify different forms of intelligence and cleverness.

Moreover, the play shows some of the downsides of Higgins' overly intellectual learning. Higgins approaches other people with a kind of academic detachment. He sees everyone as subjects for his linguistic studies, rather than as people with feelings of their own. One sees this especially with how he treats Eliza: he hurtfully neglects her as a person and sees her merely as an experiment. Higgins lacks basic sympathy and empathy, what might be called emotional intelligence. The play's most intelligent character is thus, in another sense, its least learned.

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Education and Intelligence ThemeTracker

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Education and Intelligence Quotes in Pygmalion

Below you will find the important quotes in Pygmalion related to the theme of Education and Intelligence.
Act 1 Quotes

A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don't sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon.

Related Characters: Henry Higgins (speaker), Eliza Doolittle
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Eliza becomes angry with Higgins and tells him to mind his own business. Higgins becomes angry with Eliza in return, retorting that her walking around and speaking the way she does is exactly his business. In this quote, he goes so far as to say that a woman who speaks the way Eliza does has "no right to live." 

Higgins represents an extreme of Victorian society, which associated wealth and high status with high morality, and associated the lower classes with dirtiness and a lack of morals. In this instance, without knowing Eliza at all, Higgins decides that she is not worthy of a life because she is a lower class than he and speaks in a dialect that is associated with the lower classes. While he tells her that she is a scourge upon a language that produced great works of literature (although, of course, the Bible—one of Higgins' examples—wasn't originally written in English), he fails to comprehend that her lower status means that she has not had access to the same education he has had the privilege of receiving. To Higgins, appearance is everything, closely followed by birth. Eliza has neither a classy appearance nor notable birth; to him, she might as well be dead. 


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Act 2 Quotes

You know, Pickering, if you consider a shilling, not as a simple shilling, but as a percentage of this girl's income, it works out as fully equivalent to sixty or seventy guineas from a millionaire.

Related Characters: Henry Higgins (speaker), Eliza Doolittle, Colonel Pickering
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

When Eliza asks Higgins to give her elocution lessons, she offers to pay him a shilling per lesson, which she believes to be his going rate (as Higgins is a very wealthy man, it is likely much, much higher). In this quote, Higgins addresses Pickering as if Eliza is not present. This further exemplifies his rudeness towards her: he does not consider her to be of the same intelligence of himself and Pickering, and therefore does not even think to include her in the conversation.

Here, Higgins reasons that as a ratio of Eliza's income, a shilling is comparable to "sixty or seventy guineas from a millionaire." Rather than feeling touched that Eliza would be willing to part with such a large part of her income in order for his expertise, Higgins' merely calculates this ratio for his own amusement. Higgins' interest in Eliza is purely for entertainment, not because he has an investment in bettering her future by "fixing" her speech to a standard that society perceives to be higher class. Comparing Eliza to a millionaire also reveals how Higgins' mind works--he is constantly determining class distinctions in his mind about the people he interacts with. Eliza does not exist as simply who she is, rags and all, but rather within the context of how she stacks up--or doesn't--to the rest of Victorian society. 

Well, the matter is, sir, that you can't take a girl up like that as if you were picking up a pebble on the beach.

Related Characters: Mrs. Pearce (speaker), Eliza Doolittle, Henry Higgins
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

When Higgins orders Mrs. Pearce to burn Eliza's clothes and fetch her new ones, the housekeeper stands up for the young girl and tells Higgins he can't casually "take a girl up" as if he "were picking up a pebble on the beach."

Mrs. Pearce, though class-conscious like the rest of Victorian London, is more sympathetic to Eliza's plight than her employer. As Higgins' housekeeper, she knows his habits and prejudices, and worries that his passing interest in Eliza as a hobby or "project" will result in her danger or harm. Higgins does not think of Eliza as a human, or at least one with similar intelligence to him, but rather as some kind of "creature." Mrs. Pearce can tell he's interested in her as an oddity or curiosity, not in her future, regardless of his protests to the contrary. Mrs. Pearce is crucial as Eliza's only advocate in this situation, and the first person to express concern over Higgins' intentions and Eliza's physical and emotional safety.

Mrs. Pearce's interest in Eliza is also evidence of the gender divide in Victorian England--she, as a woman, feels that she must protect a vulnerable younger woman from the misogyny of Higgins' patriarchal position and views. 

Then might I ask you not to come down to breakfast in your dressing-gown, or at any rate not to use it as a napkin to the extent you do, sir. And if you would be so good as not to eat everything off the same plate, and to remember not to put the porridge saucepan out of your hand on the clean tablecloth, it would be a better example to the girl.

Related Characters: Mrs. Pearce (speaker), Henry Higgins
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

After taking Eliza away to wash up and change, Mrs. Pearce comes back into Higgins' study to ask him to promise not to practice some of his bad habits in Eliza's presence.

Higgins, a "confirmed old bachelor," has lived along with just Mrs. Pearce for years, and as a result, has acquired a number of habits, such as walking around in his pajamas and cursing, that the housekeeper does not believe are suitable for a young woman (particularly one to whom Higgins is supposedly going to give elocution and etiquette lessons). Given Higgins' classist and sexist views, it is ironic that his housekeeper, a woman and a member of a lower class, is reprimanding him for his manners. Here Mrs. Pearce acts as a foil to Higgins' ego--though he talks a big game, he requires Mrs. Pearce's care to live his day-to-day life, and he often acts immaturely, despite his supposedly upper class etiquette. Mrs. Pearce reveals his true habits when no one is looking, thus confirming them as his hypocrisies.

This sentiment is similar to Higgins' hope to pass Eliza off as a noblewoman, not actually make her into a genuine member of the upper class: class is all about how one hopes to be perceived, not how they truly are as a human being. For all of her faults, Eliza is true to herself, whereas Higgins' pretension is almost entirely an act. 

Act 3 Quotes

I shall never get into the way of seriously liking young women: some habits lie too deep to be changed. [Rising abruptly and walking about, jingling his money and his keys in his trouser pockets] Besides, they're all idiots.

Related Characters: Henry Higgins (speaker), Eliza Doolittle
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry visits his mother on a day she is scheduled to entertain other visitors. He asks that she allow Eliza to join in on the visit, to test how she interacts in a group of strangers. Hearing about a girl, Mrs. Higgins suddenly becomes interested, and she asks her son if this young woman is a romantic interest of his. 

In this quote, Higgins immediately dismisses any idea that Eliza is a potential romantic partner. He, according to his mother, never falls in love with anyone under "forty-five," likely because he has an intense disdain for immaturity and naivety. Ironically, he claims that "some habits lie too deep to be changed," although changing habits is exactly at the root of his experiment with Eliza. Higgins believes that he is a singular creature, immune to all of the fallacy of human beings, particularly those that he believes "afflict" women. His prejudices therefore maintain his status as a bachelor. 

You certainly are a pretty pair of babies, playing with your live doll.

Related Characters: Mrs. Higgins (speaker), Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

After the guests leave, Mrs. Higgins grills Pickering and her son as to their true intentions for Eliza. When they explain their project and bet, Mrs. Higgins is horrified and points out the fallacies in their experimental design: Eliza is a human, and she will continue to live a life after the project is over. 

In this quote, Mrs. Higgins points out that the two men are acting like children delighting over the intricacies of their "live doll." When children play with a doll, they manipulate its movements and perhaps make up what it says, but they don't actually believe that the doll has a mind of its own. This is how Pickering and Higgins approach Eliza: as a toy for their amusement, without consulting her on her own beliefs and thoughts, because it has never occurred to them that she has any. Their project, though supposedly intended for real-world application, ultimately lives in the world of academia, especially since they have not thought of what to do with Eliza when she succeeds, or doesn't, at the garden party. This lack of foresight is what truly makes their experiment and actions immature. 

Act 4 Quotes

Well, I feel a bit tired. It's been a long day. The garden party, a dinner party, and the opera! Rather too much of a good thing. But you've won your bet, Higgins. Eliza did the trick, and something to spare, eh?
Thank God it's over!

Related Characters: Henry Higgins (speaker), Colonel Pickering (speaker), Eliza Doolittle
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

The garden party is a success, and Eliza "fools" all of the noblemen into believing she is a duchess. After returning from the party, Pickering and Higgins congratulate themselves on a job well-done, and completely ignore Eliza's presence. In this quote, Pickering and Higgins are smugly satisfied with their work on Eliza, completely ignoring the fact that it was she who was the actual success at the party, not just them. Higgins' comment about being grateful it is over is particularly hurtful to Eliza--it is further confirmation that they were really interested in their fun and games, and not her feelings or future, in initiating this project. She as a "success" story matters very little to them--they are only interested in using their wit and wealth to mold her and amuse themselves. Now, they can move on to whatever else will entertain them, and have little regard for what happens to Eliza now that she has been molded into a semblance of a noblewoman, and cannot return to the "gutter." This quote is evidence of the crass and blasé nature that the two men inspire in each other, in particular the insensitive remarks that Higgins frequently doles out without regard to Eliza's feelings or literal presence in the room.

It was interesting enough at first, while we were at the phonetics; but after that I got deadly sick of it. If I hadn't backed myself to do it I should have chucked the whole thing up two months ago. It was a silly notion: the whole thing has been a bore.

Related Characters: Henry Higgins (speaker), Eliza Doolittle
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Completely ignoring Eliza's presence in the room, Higgins complains that the experiment had become a bore, and that he would have given up months ago had there not been a bet at stake. In this quote, Higgins speaks incredibly rudely about Eliza in a manner that is particularly unacceptable given that she can hear everything he is saying. His statement that he was only interested in the phonetics aspect of the experiment is further evidence that he only regarded Eliza as an academic curiosity, not as a human--he became "bored," as he claims, of the whole matter once he learned that he actually had to attend to her as a whole human being, not just as a speaking machine, in order to mold her into an entirely new member of Victorian high society. This statement is a new low, even for Higgins: it shows a blatant disregard not just for Eliza as a lower-class woman, but for a human life and mind that he has lived and worked with intimately for six months. Higgins respects Pickering because he believes him to be his moral and intellectual equal; anyone he perceives as inferior and subject to his whims, such as Eliza, might as well not have a mind at all.

I'd like to kill you, you selfish brute. Why didn't you leave me where you picked me out of—in the gutter? You thank God it's all over, and that now you can throw me back again there, do you?

Related Characters: Eliza Doolittle (speaker), Henry Higgins
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Incensed about Higgins' and Pickering's statements, Eliza throws Higgins' slippers at him in a rage. In this quote, she acknowledges that she has heard everything he has said, and expresses her fury at his sentiments.

Throughout the last six months, Eliza has taken Pickering and Higgins' emotional abuse for the sake of learning how to be a genteel woman so that she might have a better shot at her future than she did before they met. However, all of her rage at their condescension comes to a head after she performs admirably at the garden party, and they pat each other on the back rather than praising her for her excellent work over the past few months. 

Eliza accuses Higgins of being selfish--his statements about being grateful that the experiment was over show that he had no interest in her beyond the amusement she provided. Once the amusement was gone, he has no use for her. Just like Mrs. Higgins warned, neither man considered what would become of Eliza once the project was over. Here, Eliza shows that she, too, is concerned about her life--now that she has been shown what a life of leisure and luxury is, she has the choice of continuing to live with a man who considers her less than human, or returning to the "gutter" in a life of poverty and squalor.  In the intervening months, the two men failed to realize that Eliza's beliefs and goals--not just her appearance and speech--had evolved to be greater than one expects of a flower girl.  

Act 5 Quotes

Who asked him to make a gentleman of me? I was happy. I was free. I touched pretty nigh everybody for money when I wanted it, same as I touched you, Henry Higgins. Now I am worrited; tied neck and heels; and everybody touches me for money. It's a fine thing for you, says my solicitor. Is it? says I. ...A year ago I hadn't a relative in the world except two or three that wouldn't speak to me. Now I've fifty, and not a decent week's wages among the lot of them. I have to live for others and not for myself: that's middle class morality.

Related Characters: Alfred Doolittle (speaker), Ezra D. Wannafeller
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Alfred Doolittle is bequeathed an entire fortune from a wealthy American businessman, and suddenly finds himself rising in the ranks of Victorian society due to his money. In this quote, he laments to Higgins that the windfall has ruined his life. 

Eliza and her father provide an interesting comparison for the ways in which "class" is often associated with both good manners and a big bank account, though in this case, Eliza has the manners but no money, and her father has the money but no manners. In both situations, suddenly being thrust into a new life without the full package makes their lives very stressful. Eliza is capable of social mobility but has no idea how to begin, while her father has the means but feels burdened by the amount of people in his life who want to use him.

Shaw here uses the two characters to provide evidence for the old adage that money can't buy happiness--and neither can an upper class accent. Just because one can join the upper crust does not mean it is a happier level of society--just one with more garden parties and "visiting days." Both Eliza and Doolittle rue the day that Higgins interfered in their lives--just because he is a professor, it does not mean he knows how to live anymore than someone from the gutter does. He expects the Doolittles to be grateful to him for their "good luck," but all they want is to go back to the days in which all they knew was what they had. Thanks to Higgins, all they now know is dissatisfaction. 

Nonsense! He can't provide for her. He shan't provide for her. She doesn't belong to him. I paid him five pounds for her.

Related Characters: Henry Higgins (speaker), Eliza Doolittle, Alfred Doolittle
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

After hearing of Doolittle's newfound wealth, Mrs. Higgins suggests that he can now support Eliza. In this quote, Higgins replies that this is nonsense, since he technically "bought" Eliza for five pounds at the beginning of the experiment.

Despite Eliza's protests, and Mrs. Higgins' reprimands, Higgins still believes that Eliza, as an entity, is entirely indebted to his expertise and generosity. He has never worried about what will happen to her because he simply expected her to continue existing alongside him: he never states that he is fond of her, but merely that he has "grown accustomed" to her presence in his life. Like his different phonetics equipments and academic books, Higgins hopes to "collect" Eliza and keep her alongside him, as evidence of his success and brilliance. He continues to fail to comprehend that she is a separate human being with her own wants and desires, and flippantly expects her to truly remain on Wimpole Street because he gave her food and clothing, and paid her father five pounds. Higgins, as Shaw comments, is "incorrigible" and stubbornly believes that what he thinks is pure truth, and will never accept that he is less than the smartest person in the room, despite loud cries towards the contrary. 

She had become attached to you both. She worked very hard for you, Henry! I don't think you quite realize what anything in the nature of brain work means to a girl like that. Well, it seems that when the great day of trial came, and she did this wonderful thing for you without making a single mistake, you two sat there and never said a word to her, but talked together of how glad you were that it was all over and how you had been bored with the whole thing. And then you were surprised because she threw your slippers at you!

Related Characters: Mrs. Higgins (speaker), Eliza Doolittle, Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

After storming out of Higgins' house, Eliza goes to Mrs. Higgins to spend the night and relate her woes from Wimpole Street. In this quote, Mrs. Higgins explains to her son all the ways he has failed his protégé. 

Higgins' views of wealth and class meant that he felt that his work on Eliza was very generous, and that it was he who succeeded at the garden party, not her--similar to the way he would have been proud of himself for publishing an academic paper, not for the paper due to its personal achievements. Eliza, however, is a human being, and feels that her own achievements have been completely ignored. Everyone besides Pickering, it appears, sees very clearly how poorly Higgins has treated Eliza, including his own mother. Higgins' disdain for young women meant that though he worked with Eliza, he never truly got to know her, since he didn't feel like she was worth it. Yet when she became angry at him, he felt very hurt, since he had assumed she felt fondly for him and grateful for his "service." Higgins can almost, but not quite, be forgiven for his behavior, since he is completely ignorant of how his actions and words affect others. However, his refusal to believe other people when they tell him he has misbehaved qualifies Shaw's statement that the character he has created is utterly "incorrigible."