George Bernard Shaw

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Clothing Symbol Analysis

Clothing Symbol Icon
In Pygmalion, clothing is an important part (perhaps the most important part) of characters' appearances and how they display their identity and social standing. In the opening scene, the different people under the church portico are able to discern each other's social class particularly by their clothes. Pickering is easily recognizable as a gentleman, whereas Eliza is easily identifiable as a poor flower-girl. Because of this, clothing is naturally an important part of Eliza's transformation. In Act Two, after she changes clothes, her own father doesn't even recognize her at first—and this is before she even begins to act or talk differently. Mr. Doolittle's own social transformation is also symbolized by clothing. He arrives at Mrs. Higgins' house in Act Five dressed like a gentleman, and Higgins assumes that this cannot be Eliza's father, whom he met earlier. The importance of clothes in the formation of one's social identity suggests that such identity is rather shallow. Indeed, a central ambiguity in the play is whether one's identity can really be changed by learning to speak differently or putting on a different outfit, or whether this is merely a façade that covers up one's true, unchanging identity. This tension comes to the forefront in Act Four when Eliza asks Higgins whether her new, expensive clothes actually belong to her now. Behind the question of whether she is or isn't the owner of the clothes, Eliza also wants to know whether her new, upper-class identity is really hers, or whether it is just a role she is playing, a costume she is wearing but will have to give up eventually. Clothes thus symbolize the importance of appearances in establishing one's identity and class, while also questioning how deep this kind of social identity goes.

Clothing Quotes in Pygmalion

The Pygmalion quotes below all refer to the symbol of Clothing. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Language and Speech Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of Pygmalion published in 2000.
Act 1 Quotes

It's aw rawt: e's a genleman: look at his ba-oots.

Related Characters: Bystander (speaker), Henry Higgins
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2 Quotes

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:
Act 4 Quotes

Do my clothes belong to me or to Colonel Pickering?

Related Characters: Eliza Doolittle (speaker), Henry Higgins, Colonel Pickering
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:
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