The Man of Hypocrisy
‘Manners are the happy way of doing things’; according to Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to Emerson people use manners as a front to make themselves look better. Inherently, this will lead to a contradiction of the front and the reality. One such man who is most concerned with manners is the protagonist of Shaw’s Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins. Higgins is a man who displays contradictions within his character. He is in the business of teaching proper manners, although lacks them himself. In addition, Higgins is an intelligent man, and yet he is ignorant of the feelings of those around him. Another apparent contradiction is that Higgins’ outer charm serves to hide his bullying nature. He manipulates Eliza and others around him to serve his own purposes, without any regard for her feelings.
Higgins, a teacher of proprietary manners, lacks those very manners which others pay to learn from him. Ironically, Higgins believes that he is the greatest teacher of manners. He announces that in ‘three months [he] could pass [Eliza] off as a duchess.’; Higgins thinks that he can take any lower class girl and pass her off as a duchess. He truly believes that he is capable of transforming Eliza. Once the teaching begins, Higgins shows no respect for others in his life. When he goes to see his mother, she reminds him that ‘[he] promised not to come on’; her days when she is having guests. He ignores this promise to his mother because he believes that his newest experiment is more important than his mother’s insignificant visitors are. This behavior continues throughout the course of the experiment, and even after it is over. Higgins and Colonel Pickering speak about Eliza as if she is a pet or a possession that exists solely for their amusement. After Higgins and Pickering settle their bet, Higgins reveals that he is relieved and he ‘thank[s] God that it is over with.’; Higgins is insensitive to the fact that his lessons have become a major part of Eliza’s life. When Higgins says to Eliza’s face that he is happy the lessons are finished, he is oblivious to the power of his words over her. Higgins is unaware that Eliza is devastated. He is bored of teaching manners to her. His lack of manners is a contributing factor to his separation from other people.
Even though the Professor is a highly intelligent man, he is completely ignorant of other peoples’ feelings. Colonel Pickering ‘came all the way from India to meet [the Professor].’; Pickering will not travel halfway around the world if the Professor is not smart. Despite his extreme intelligence, Higgins is unaware of the fact that Eliza is a person with real emotions and feelings. Mrs. Pearce informs Higgins that he can not take a girl off the street as if she is a pebble off the ground. Higgins only reply to this is ‘Why not?’; thereby displaying that he is insensitive and ignorant of Eliza’s feelings. He is so myopic that he does not see the need to have any concern whatsoever for Eliza. When Eliza first comes to Higgins with her request to be taught, he sees her only as an experiment, instead of as a real person. He refers to her as baggage and wonders whether she should ‘sit down or be thrown out the window?’; The only issue to him is whether or not to take on this poor girl as an experiment. Higgins is completely ignorant of the fact that she is a person and not just an experiment. His insensitivity and arrogance displays that he is a bully to others in order to get his way.
Higgins is an extremely charming man who transforms into a monstrous bully when he does not get his way. His first resource for obtaining what he wants is his charm and wit. In order to get his mother to allow Eliza to visit her, Higgins complements her and says that Eliza ‘speaks English almost as well as [his mother] speaks French.’; This flattery causes his mother to give in and allow the visit when she really does not want this visit to take place. But, when charm does not work, he tries to use brute force to control the things that he can not control with his charm. Upon Eliza’s first arrival at Higgins’ home, Higgins commands all that if ‘Eliza gives any trouble, to wallop her.’; He tries to keep her under his thumb through the use of intimidation. Along with the threat of physical violence, Higgins puts forward mental bullying which serves to break Eliza’s spirits that make her defiant of him. When Eliza angrily asks Higgins if he is happy now that she has won him the bet, he laughs and scoffs at her that ‘[He] won the bet, not [her].’; Higgins treats her like a nothing, like she has no mind of her own. She is a puppet of Higgins manipulative experiments on life. Higgins tries to use his charm to manipulate people into giving him what he wants, but when this tactic fails he resorts to brute force and abuse.
It is amazing that a man with such great qualities and characteristics can also have the bad qualities that are opposite of those great ones. How these traits can coexist in one person does not make sense. One of the traits must be a false front. This is the nature of the world. When two opposites come together in the same place and do not alter each other, then one of them is kept up as a facade. At any moment in time this facade can move or crack and the true nature of the person will come to light. People who display too many contradictions in character are usually true hypocrites.