Pygmalion Act 2 Summary and Analysis

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The scene shifts to Higgins' laboratory in his home in Wimpole Street. It is eleven o'clock the next morning, and Higgins has been giving Pickering some demonstrations of the types of equipment that he uses in recording sounds which can then be studied at leisure in a scientific manner. As Higgins finishes his demonstration, Pickering admits that he is impressed, but he hasn't been able to follow more than half of what Higgins has shown him. Mrs. Pearce, the housekeeper, enters to announce that there is a strange girl, "quite a common girl," downstairs asking for the professor. Higgins is puzzled, but he thinks that this would be a good opportunity to record her in Pickering's presence, particularly since she is reported to have an unusual accent. He will thus be able to show Pickering how he makes records, using various pieces of his equipment that he has been demonstrating.

Eliza, the flower girl from the preceding evening, enters. She is now dressed in an outlandish outfit, consisting of, among other things, three ostrich feathers of orange, sky-blue, and red. When Higgins recognizes her, he orders her away because he has already recorded enough of her type of "Lisson Grove lingo." Eliza, however, has come in a taxi, with a proposition. Higgins is not impressed and rudely inquires: "Shall we ask this baggage to sit down, or shall we throw her out of the window?" Pickering is more solicitous, and so Eliza turns to him and reveals that she wants to obtain a job as a lady in a flower shop, but she won't be hired unless she can speak in a genteel, ladylike fashion; thus, she has come to take speech lessons from Higgins because last night, he bragged about his ability to teach proper speech to anyone. She is even willing to pay as much as a shilling an hour (about twenty-five cents an hour, an absurdly ridiculous sum — so absurdly low, in fact, that it appeals to Higgins' imagination). Higgins calculates that Eliza's offer is a certain proportion of her daily income, and therefore represents, for her, a large payment. While he is considering the arrangement, Pickering, whose interest has also been aroused, makes a wager: "I'll bet you all the expenses of the experiment," he tells Higgins, that the professor cannot teach Eliza to speak "like a duchess" in six months' time and pass her off at an ambassador's garden party as a "lady." Furthermore, Pickering says, ironically, "And I'll pay for the lessons," since the lessons are only twenty-five cents an hour. Higgins is indeed tempted — the challenge is tremendously great because Eliza is "so deliciously low — so horribly dirty — ." Thus he decides to do it: He "shall make a duchess of this draggletailed guttersnipe" in "six months — in three if she has a good ear and a quick tongue." He then orders Mrs. Pearce to take her away, to scrub her down, to burn her clothes and to get her new ones. And if she makes any noise, he says, Mrs. Pearce should "wallop her."

Both Eliza and Mrs. Pearce are horrified over these suggestions. Mrs. Pearce suggests that perhaps the girl is married or that perhaps she might have parents who would object. But, as it turns out, Eliza's parents turned her out to earn her own living over two years ago. Once again, Higgins bullies the girl, ordering her about and ignoring her feelings to the point that Pickering reminds him that Eliza "has some feelings," but Higgins ignores the possibility and concentrates on the immediate problem with Eliza: it is not the pronunciation; it is the grammar that will be the problem.

Mrs. Pearce, before leaving, wonders what is to become of Eliza when they have finished with her. Higgins' response is a vague question about what will become of her if he leaves her alone; to him it makes no difference — when they are through, "we can throw her back into the gutter, and then it will be her own business again." When Eliza begins to revolt, Higgins tempts her with some chocolates and with the thought of some young man...
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