Literary Analysis - Importance of Being Earnest

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Literary Analysis Essay

PICKERING: [rising and standing over him gravely] Come, Higgins! You know what I mean. If I’m to be in this business I shall feel responsible for that girl. I hope it’s understood that no advantage is to be taken of her position. HIGGINS. What! That thing! Sacred, I assure you. [Rising to explain] You see, she'll be a pupil; and teaching would be impossible unless pupils were sacred. 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. It's- (38).

I’m very curious about how Henry Higgins, in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, feels about his profession and how this translates to his interpretation of society. Higgins, a professor of phonetics, ultimately enters into a bet in which he is assigned the task of teaching a poor, uneducated yet determined girl from the streets proper grammar, with the hope of transforming her into a duchess in a few months time. It’s clear from the beginning that Higgins, a man full of contradictions and no filter, is the protagonist. At first, Higgins is clearly opposed to the idea of teaching Eliza; this is evident through his blatant insults and sarcastic taunts. He makes fun of her poor grammar and the fact that she is clearly uneducated. Higgins infers that Eliza’s success will help her move up the social hierarchy and even though Eliza’s transformation is unequivocal, Higgins initial perception of her never changes – his general attitude towards her is consistent throughout the play. In contrast, when Higgins first meets Pickering, an educated scholar, his demeanor is quite the opposite. The difference between his demeanors leads me to believe that language does affect Higgins’ perception of society. This is shown further due to his rude indifference of Eliza’s drastic transformation. I intend to prove that Higgins' views language as a tool for social advancement and this understanding is what ultimately causes him to treat people more as objects than human beings. Higgins considers teaching Eliza as more of a social service due to her economic and social disadvantage. Higgins asserts that, “teaching would be impossible unless pupils were sacred” (38). At first glance I presumed that sacred meant holy or special, yet he assigns another meaning to the word. Higgins regards the English language as an exclusive privilege; speech should be regarded with reverence and entitlement. He associates proper language with societal and spiritual implications and holds that it is what separates class from class and soul from soul. This suggests that Higgins believes the English language should be respected. In addition, he asserts that education and the ability to effectively communicate is paramount to the functionality of society; it’s important because without language, society would crumble. Therefore, in teaching Eliza proper grammar, Higgins gains a sense of power due to the belief he is changing her for the better, and ultimately into a different human being.

Although its obvious that Higgins thoroughly enjoys the subject of language and is seemingly enthusiastic about his profession, he tends to brag about his accomplishments and often belittles other people’s intellectual abilities. He treats people, Eliza in particular, with a rude indifference and no regard for feelings or emotions. It’s clear that Pickering is trying to look out for Eliza’s best interest when he argues, “If I’m to be in this business I shall feel responsible for that girl. I hope it’s understood that no advantage is to be taken of her position” (38.) Higgins bluntly responds “What! That thing!” and the difference in demeanor is candid. In comparison to Pickering, it’s clear that Higgins lacks decent manners. His cockiness is further exemplified through his boasting; “I’ve taught scores of American millionairesses how to speak English: the best looking...
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