George Bernard Shaw

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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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Pygmalion, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Language and Speech

Shaw's play explores aspects of language in a variety of ways. Higgins and Pickering study linguistics and phonetics, taking note of how people from different backgrounds speak differently. In Act Three, we see the importance of proper small talk in a social situation. And the play also reveals some of the powers of language: Eliza's transformation is spurred simply by Pickering calling her by the name Miss Doolittle, while Higgins' insults and coarse language, which…

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Appearance and Identity

Pygmalion explores how social identity is formed not only through patterns of speech, but also through one's general appearance. Much like speech, one's physical appearance signals social class. In the opening scene, as people from different walks of life are forced to take shelter under the same portico, characters' social class is discernible through their clothing: the poor flower-girl (later revealed to be Eliza) and the gentleman, for example, easily know each other's…

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Social Class and Manners

Written in 1912, Pygmalion is set in the early 20th century, at the end of the Victorian period in England. Among other things, this period of history was characterized by a particularly rigid social hierarchy—but one that was beginning to decline as social mobility became increasingly possible. The wealthy, high-class characters of the play are thus especially concerned with maintaining class distinctions. This means more than a mere distinction between rich and poor. The Eynsford…

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Education and Intelligence

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…

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Femininity and Gender Roles

The title of Shaw's play is taken from the myth of Pygmalion. In this story, Pygmalion scorns all the women around him and makes a sculpture of his ideal woman. The sculpture is so beautiful that he falls in love with it and it comes to life. By titling his play after this story, Shaw calls attention to questions of femininity and gender. As Pygmalion sculpts his ideal woman, so Higgins and Pickering mold Eliza

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