Historically, the treatment of femininity in literature is wide ranging. Some texts explore the feelings and responsibilities involved with typically feminine traits such as motherhood and in social environments, while others highlight more feminist issues such as the struggle for equality and male oppression. Authors of both sexes have made major contributions to this area in literature but it remains surprising that male writers have been able to perceptively portray women above their previously subordinate positions in society.
In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, we see the main character, Eliza Doolittle transformed from an ill-mannered Cockney flower girl into a high society debutante with the help of some elocution lessons provided by Mr Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics and financed by his well-travelled friend, Colonel Pickering. Higgins expects that he can teach Eliza enough in the matters of etiquette to pass (her) off as the Queen of Sheba' (Shaw, pg 18) and in the space of three months. He believes that he can do this merely by teaching her to speak properly' but is unaware of her independent nature and is ill prepared for what lies ahead. In the opening act, when Higgins finds her in Convent Garden, Shaw portrays Eliza as unfeminine and outspoken, if not somewhat rude and this is in sharp contrast to the ladies, Clara Eynsford-Hill and her mother, who are waiting in the rain expectant that Clara's brother, Freddy, will do his duty' and provide them with a taxi. They are quite disgusted by Eliza's attitude and Mrs Eynsford-Hill is obviously horrified to think that her son may know Eliza when she calls him by his name. Eliza has a good moralistic attitude and this is highlighted when a bystander informs her that a man is taking notes of her conversation with the Colonel, they'll take away my character' (Shaw pg13) Eliza exclaims, worried that she has been mistaken for a prostitute. She sees that others tend to have a low opinion of...
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