How Does the Audience Feel About Higgins at the End of the Play? Do We Have Any Sympathy for Him?

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  • Topic: Marriage, Feeling, Audience
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  • Published : February 22, 2013
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Throughout the play of Pygmalion, Higgins is portrayed to the audience in many ways. He is a well educated and intelligent man that, however, possesses horrendous manners and is socially inept. An example of this is shown when his own mother, Mrs Higgins, doesn’t want him in her house when she has company and also when she says that she doesn’t want to attend church the same time as him as he is rude. ‘You offend all my friends: they stop coming whenever they meet you.’ – Mrs Higgins. ‘He cant behave himself in church. He makes remarks out loud all the time on the clergyman’s pronunciation.’ – Mrs Higgins. Though is it possible that we, as the audience, may have a change of heart in our feelings towards this brutish genius? May we feel some sympathy for him?

After the evening party that Higgins, Eliza and Pickering return to the house in Wimpole Street. Higgins and Pickering converse over how well the evening had gone and also that they were glad that the bet had been won as the lessons were boring and tedious to them now. ‘It was interesting enough at first, while we were at the phonetics; but after that I got deadly sick of it.’ – Higgins. They say this while Eliza is in the room. She becomes furious by the fact that they were not congratulating her on doing such a good job and overlooking her part in the evening completely. ‘Eliza tries to control herself and feel indifferent as she rises and walks across to the hearth to switch off the lights. By the time she gets there she is on the point of screaming.’ After Pickering leaves, Higgins is trying to find his slippers. Eliza throws them in his face shouting at him. She believes that he doesn’t care about her and that he will return her to the gutter soon enough. ‘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?’ – Eliza. They both calm down slightly after Eliza tries to attack Higgins. After this, Eliza becomes self-pitying and irritated with Higgins. ‘Oh God, I wish I was dead!’ – Eliza.

During this time Higgins is calm and reasonable with her. She is overreacting and trying to receive negative attention by doing so. The audience would feel sympathy for Higgins at this point. He is trying to be tolerant while Eliza is behaving erratically; attacking him, shouting at him and whinging. ‘He moderates his tone.’

‘Good-humoured again.’
‘He pats her kindly on the shoulder. She writhes.’

Even though we can feel sympathy for Higgins at this point, he is as much in the wrong as Eliza. He should have been more considerate to her feelings by congratulating her as well as letting her have some of the glory of winning his bet for him. Higgins, unfortunately, doesn’t see it that way. He believes that he won his bet for him and that she was just a component that was necessary for him to achieve victory. ‘You won my bet! You! Presumptuous insect! I won it.’ – Higgins. This demonstrates that Higgins is self-centred and glory seeking. He doesn’t want anyone else to get any credit.

During this scene, where Eliza is feeling sorry for herself, we begin to see evidence of Higgins’ possible feelings for Eliza. He believes that she won’t have any problem in settling herself somewhere or finding someone to marry. ‘I should imagine you wont have much difficulty in settling yourself somewhere or other … You might marry, you know.’ – Higgins. This shows that even though Higgins can be oblivious to Eliza’s feelings, he is confident in her ability to be independent. He then continues to say that because she is attractive, from his point of view no less, she will have no trouble in finding a husband if they are of the marrying sort. ‘Most me are the marrying sort (poor devils!); and youre not bad-looking: it’s quite a pleasure to look at you sometimes … when youre all right and quite yourself, youre what I should call attractive.’ – Higgins. Later on in the scene Higgins says to Eliza...
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