Shaw has often been criticized for his inability to create well- developed round characters. His characters are usually seen as mere puppets propelled by the crisis of the plot or as mouthpieces for his socialist viewpoint. However in Pygmalion,, Shaw vindicates himself of these charges by the creation of rounded and life-like characters such as Higgins and Eliza. Clearly they are not authorial stooges. They have a peculiar quality that leaves a lasting imprint on the reader's memory. But there is some truth in the charge that Shaw created a mouthpiece for his own ideas and the character of Alfred Doolittle is a case in point. While Doolittle is undoubtedly a staple comic character, he is an artificial and flat one. Doolittle is there for a purpose - he serves Shaw's didactic needs. As such he is in the Dickens' vein of exaggeration. Doolittle's character is drawn for the sole purpose of ridiculing the Victorian philosophy of the "undeserving poor." One cannot imagine such a character existing in real life. On the whole, however, Pygmalion is peopled with imaginative and lively characters. While Higgins and Eliza are excellent, even the minor characters are well drawn.
Higgins is an extremely interesting character and the life of the play. Although the play's obvious concern is the metamorphosis of a common flower girl into a duchess, the development of Higgins' character is also important. The play isn't only Eliza's story. One also detects changes in Higgins or to be more precise he appears to the reader in a new light at the end. This is seen when he tells Eliza that he has grown accustomed to seeing her face and hearing her voice. This is not much of a sensitive display of emotions but it is quite different than the savage invective he hurled at her at the beginning of the play in Covent Garden.
Higgins is portrayed as being highly educated. Apart from being a professor of phonetics, he has a deep reverence for literature and fancies himself as a poet. In all seriousness he thinks highly of "the treasures of (his) Mittonic mind." He is self-indulgent, whimsical, and ill mannered when it comes to interacting with other people.
Higgins is not a man given to extravagant aesthetic tastes. The walls in the Wimpole street laboratory are not adorned by paintings but by engravings. His passionate fondness for sweets and chocolates stands out in comic contrast to his seriousness and austere mode of living. Higgins' most prominent characteristic is his restlessness and the consequent inability to sit still. He is constantly tripping and stumbling over something. For instance, in Act Three, Shaw writes in the stage directions that Higgins's sudden arrival at his mother's at home is accompanied by minor disasters - "He goes to the divan, stumbling into the fender and over the fire-irons on his way; extricating himself with muttered impatiently on the divan that he almost breaks it". These quirks and oddities of his character contribute to the laughs in the play and place Higgins in the tradition of the comic hero.
It is obvious that simply as a professor of phonetics Higgins would not have been very humorous. Thus Shaw makes Higgins obsessed with his profession. His devotion to phonetics is so engrossing that it leaves little time or inclination for anything else. Consequently his behavior strikes people as odd and unconventional to the point of being rude. He despises the conventions of the middle class that include their manners and hypocritical sense of decorum. He claims to treat everyone with equal disrespect yet his invective is lavished on Eliza while Mrs. Eynsford-Hill and Clara, who represent a more despicable aspect of society are never verbally reprimanded; they are simply ignored.
Higgins's volatile temperament and frequent outbursts provide some of the most amusing moments in the play. While his apparently unfeeling condescending...