George Bernard Shaw

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Pygmalion: Metaphors 3 key examples

Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Act 2
Explanation and Analysis—Blocks of Wood:

In Act 2, Higgins uses a metaphor to respond to Pickering’s insistence that Eliza not be taken advantage of during their experiment. Higgins wants to make it clear that nothing personal will occur between Eliza and himself during their tutelage. He uses a metaphor to convey his level of detachment from his pupils, and reassures Pickering that nothing inappropriate will take place. In proper Higgins fashion, he brags about his experience as a tutor in order to downplay the significance of the current situation. Higgins says: 

I’ve taught scores of American millionairesses how to speak English: the best looking women in the world. I’m seasoned. They might as well be blocks of wood. I might as well be a block of wood.

In his response to Pickering, Higgins first explains that he has had exposure to other beautiful women as pupils, and therefore implies that they would be much more romantically tempting than Eliza, who is lower-class, unmannered, and therefore less desirable. Then he uses a metaphor to insist on his immunity to attraction to his pupils, comparing first the women and then himself to a block of wood. When he compares the women to blocks of wood, he casts them as completely uninteresting or impersonal. He explains his lack of interest by characterizing the women this way, making desire for them seem preposterous. His comparison to a block of wood also references his ability to shape and form them; he becomes like a sculptor, whose task is to create something beautiful from something boring or plain. Higgins then compares himself to a block of wood, which makes him seem immovable or impassive. In his desire to clear himself of suspicion, he uses the metaphor to cast any possibility of romance or inappropriate behavior from Pickering’s mind.

Act 3
Explanation and Analysis—A Live Doll:

In Act 3, Mrs. Higgins uses a metaphor to communicate her disapproval of the bet about Eliza’s transformation. She has just been told that Mr. Higgins and Pickering have taken Eliza on and are attempting to help her pass in high society. Though the men are excited by their experiment, Mrs. Higgins sees their actions in a more negative light. In order to convey her displeasure, she uses a metaphor about the men and their relationship with Eliza, trying to make them think more critically about what they are attempting to do. She says: 

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

In Mrs. Higgins's metaphor, Pickering and Mr. Higgins are like babies, and Eliza is the doll that has captured their attention. Her characterization of the men as babies makes it clear that she thinks their actions are childish and that they are playing a game. She therefore indicates that they are being irresponsible by transplanting Eliza from her life and trying to mold her to their ideal. The second part of her metaphor compares Eliza to a doll, but she specifies that Eliza is a live doll, not something made of plastic (or ivory) upon whom their actions will have no consequences. She therefore highlights the error in the men’s thinking. They are playing with someone who is alive as though she were inanimate, and have therefore devalued her experience. Mrs. Higgins's perception of the situation is informed by her desire for women to have greater agency in modern society. She therefore sees the actions of Higgins and Pickering as despicable and uses this metaphor to communicate that to them, while trying to make them see the oversight in their experiment. They have not considered Eliza, and are toying childishly with her life without thinking of the repercussions. 

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Act 4
Explanation and Analysis—Angry Cat:

In Act 4, Higgins uses a metaphor to respond to Eliza’s emotional outburst, comparing her to an animal in an attempt to belittle her. Eliza has flown into a rage because Higgins and Pickering have given her inadequate credit for her hard work as their student. She begins to claw at her own face, as she is overcome by her anger and struggles to find an appropriate outlet. She would like to attack Higgins, but instead turns the violence inward, clutching at her own face. In response, Higgins continues to disrespect her, using this metaphor as he tries to convince her not to harm herself: 

Ah! Would you? Claws in, you cat. How dare you show your temper to me?

Higgins’s metaphor likens Eliza to a mere animal whose claws have emerged—both literally and metaphorically. This emergence of her temper angers him, and he responds to her action by belittling her agency and emotional reality. Instead of responding to the source of her rage, he references her reaction. He implies that she has overstepped her bounds by telling her to withdraw her claws. Comparing her to an animal makes it clear that he disapproves of her display of emotion, and is still critiquing her behavior as though he can control her. Her outburst allows him to characterize her as pet-like, both uncontrollable and beneath him. This metaphor is thus a continuation of his disrespect, an instance of making Eliza seem unrefined and less human than himself.  

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