Higgins and Pickering show up the next day at Mrs. Higgins’ home in a state ofdistraction because Eliza has run away. They are interrupted by Alfred Doolittle, whoenters resplendently dressed, as if he were the bridegroom of a very fashionable wedding.
He has come to take issue with Henry Higgins for destroying his happiness. It turns outthat Higgins wrote a letter to a millionaire jokingly recommending Doolittle as a mostoriginal moralist, so that in his will the millionaire left Doolittle a share in his trust,amounting to three thousand pounds a year, provided that he lecture for the WannafellerMoral Reform World League. Newfound wealth has only brought him more pain thanpleasure, as long lost relatives emerge from the woodwork asking to be fed, not tomention that he is now no longer free to behave in his casual, slovenly, dustman ways. Hehas been damned by “middle class morality.” The talk degenerates into a squabble overwho owns Eliza, Higgins or her father (Higgins did give the latter five pounds for her afterall). To stop them, Mrs. Higgins sends for Eliza, who has been upstairs all along.
But firstshe tells Doolittle to step out on the balcony so that the she will not be shocked by theWhen she enters, Eliza takes care to behave very civilly. Pickering tells her shemust not think of herself as an experiment, and she expresses her gratitude to him. Shesays that even though Higgins was the one who trained the flower girl to become aduchess, Pickering always treated her like a duchess, even when she was a flower girl. Histreatment of her taught her not phonetics, but self-respect. Higgins is speaking incorrigiblyharshly to her when her father reappears, surprising her badly. He tells her that he is alldressed up because he is on his way to get married to his woman.
Pickering and Mrs.Higgins are asked to come along. Higgins and Eliza are finally left alone while the rest goThey proceed to quarrel. Higgins claims that while he may treat her badly, he is atleast fair in that he has never treated anyone else differently. He tells her she should comeback with him just for the fun of it–he will adopt her as a daughter, or she can marryPickering.
She swings around and cries that she won’t even marry Higgins if he asks. Shementions that Freddy has been writing her love letters, but Higgins immediately dismisseshim as a fool. She says that she will marry Freddy, and that the two will supportthemselves by taking Higgins’ phonetic methods to his chief rival, Nepommuck. Higgins isoutraged but cannot help wondering at her character–he finds this defiance much moreappealing than the submissiveness of the slippers-fetcher. Mrs. Higgins comes in to tellEliza it is time to leave.
As she is about to exit, Higgins tells her offhandedly to fetch himsome gloves, ties, ham, and cheese while she is out. She replies ambivalently and departs;we do not know if she will follow his orders. The play ends with Higgins’s roaring laughteras he says to his mother, “She’s going to marry Freddy. Ha ha! Freddy! Freddy!! Ha ha haThis final act brings together many of the themes that we have examined in theother acts, such as what constitutes the determinants of social standing, the fault of takingpeople too literally, or for granted, the emptiness of higher English society, etc. Withregard to the first of these themes, Eliza makes the impressively astute observation that”the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’streated.” The line packs double meaning by stating clearly that what is needed is not justone’s affectation of nobility, while her delivery is proof of the statement itself as she hasgrown enough to make such an intelligent claim. Quite contrary to the dresses, the vowels,the consonants, the jewelry (significantly, only hired) that she learned to put on, probablythe greatest thing she has gained from this experience is the self-respect that Pickeringendowed her with from the first time he called her “Miss Doolittle.
” In contrast to the”self-respect” that Eliza has learned is the “respectability” that Doolittle and his womanhave gained, a respectability that has “broke all the spirit out of her.” While respectabilitycan be learned, and is what Higgins has taught Eliza, self-respect is something far moreauthentic, and helps rather than hinders the growth of an independent spirit. AlfredDoolittle makes the unmitigated claim that acquiring the wealth to enter this society has”ruined me. Destroyed my happiness.
Tied me up and delivered me into the hands ofmiddle class morality.” Higgins’ haughty proclamation–“You will jolly soon see whethershe has an idea that I haven’t put into her head or a word that I haven’t put into hermouth.”–mistakes the external for the internal, and betrays too much unfounded pride,which is the ultimate cause of his misunderstanding with Eliza.The greatest problem that people have with Pygmalion is its highly ambivalentconclusion, in which the audience is left frustrated if it wants to see the typicalconsummation of the hero and heroine one expects in a romance–which is what the playadvertises itself to be after all.
Most people like to believe that Eliza’s talk about Freddyand leaving for good is only womanly pride speaking, but that she will ultimately return toHiggins. The first screenplay of the movie, written without Shaw’s approval, has Eliza buyHiggins a necktie. In the London premier of the play, Higgins tosses Eliza a bouquetbefore she departs. A contemporary tour of the play in America had Eliza return to ask,”What size?” Other films of the play either show Higgins pleading with Eliza to stay withhim, or Higgins following her to church. Doubtless, everyone wanted to romanticize theplay to a degree greater than that which the playwright presented it.
All this makes usquestion why Shaw is so insistent and abrupt in his conclusion.However, in a sequel that Shaw wrote after too many directors tried to adapt theconclusion into something more romantic, he writes, “The rest of the story need not beshewn in action, and indeed, would hardly need telling if our imaginations were not soenfeebled by their lazy dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me-downs of theragshop in which Romance keeps its stock of ‘happy endings to misfit all stories.” He goeson to deliver a detailed and considered argument for why Higgins would never marryEliza, and vice versa. For one, Higgins has too much admiration for his mother to find anyother woman even halfway comparable, and even “had Mrs. Higgins died, there would stillhave been Milton and the Universal Alphabet.
” To Shaw’s mind, if Eliza marries anyone atall, it must be Freddy–“And that is just what Eliza did.” The sequel goes on to give adreary account of their married life and faltering career as the owners of a flower andvegetable shop (an ironic treatment of the typical “happily ever after” nonsense) in whichFreddy and Eliza must take accounting and penmanship classes to really become usefulmembers of society. One can see this whole play as an intentional deconstruction of thegenre of Romance, and of the myth of Pygmalion as well.Bibliography: