Pygmalion : Summary, Plot, Characters, Literary Analysis & More

“Pygmalion,” a 1912 play by George Bernard Shaw, is a literary gem exploring social class, human transformation, and language’s power.

Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl with a Cockney accent, encounters Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering.

Shaw’s witty plot follows Higgins refining Eliza’s speech to elevate her from flower girl to society lady. Themes of identity, manipulation, and social mobility entwine as Eliza evolves.

With characters like Higgins, Pickering, and Alfred Doolittle, the play navigates language lessons, the ambassador’s party, and Higgins’s house.

Shaw’s sharp social commentary shines through this exploration of class distinctions, making “Pygmalion” a timeless critique while showcasing his literary prowess.

Shaw's sharp social commentary shines through this exploration of class distinctions, making "Pygmalion" a timeless critique while showcasing his literary prowess.

The Plot

“Pygmalion” follows the transformation of flower girl Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney with limited speech, through a wager between Professor Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering.

The two linguistic experts aim to refine Eliza’s speech and manners, elevating her to pass as a noble lady.

Amid lessons at Higgins’s house and ventures to the flower shop, Eliza’s evolution sparks conflicts, self-discovery, and even affection from Freddy Eynsford Hill.

The narrative takes unexpected turns when Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, complicates matters.

With Higgins’s guidance, Eliza excels at the ambassador’s garden party. The play ultimately explores class dynamics and the power of linguistic transformation.


Characters take center stage as the driving forces behind the narrative’s exploration of societal transformation, class dynamics, and personal growth.

From the audacious and self-assured Professor Henry Higgins to the spirited and enigmatic flower girl Eliza Doolittle, the characters in “Pygmalion” navigate a world where language, manners, and identity intersect, challenging both their own preconceptions and the audience’s perceptions.

This section delves into the multifaceted personalities that populate Shaw’s masterpiece, shedding light on their motivations, interactions, and evolution throughout the course of the story.

Eliza Doolittle

Eliza Doolittle, the central character, begins as a flower girl with a Cockney accent. Under the tutelage of Professor Higgins, her transformation from a modest working-class girl to a poised lady becomes a focal point.

Her journey unveils themes of identity, social mobility, and self-worth.

Professor Henry Higgins

Professor Higgins, a linguistic expert, undertakes the challenge to refine Eliza’s speech.

His domineering and sometimes insensitive mannerisms underline his fascination with language and class distinctions, sparking both conflict and transformation throughout the play.

Colonel Pickering

Colonel Pickering, a kind-hearted linguist, joins Higgins in the experiment to transform Eliza. His contrasting approach of respect and consideration balances Higgins’s brusqueness.

Pickering’s presence contributes to the play’s themes of manners and human worth.

Alfred Doolittle

Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, is a colorful character who undergoes his own social shift. His comedic interactions with Higgins and Pickering offer insights into the play’s exploration of class and societal expectations.

Freddy Eynsford Hill

Freddy Eynsford Hill, a young man smitten with Eliza, showcases the romantic aspect of the story. His infatuation contrasts with the pragmatic transformations occurring around him, highlighting the play’s complexity.

Mrs. Pearce

Mrs. Pearce, Professor Higgins’s housekeeper, brings a practical perspective to the narrative. Her role is crucial in depicting the practical implications of Eliza’s transformation within the household.

Other Characters

Various supporting characters, including the Eynsford Hill family, the ambassador’s garden party attendees, and the people in Covent Garden, contribute to the colorful tapestry of social interactions and contrasts, emphasizing the play’s themes of high society and class dynamics.

Key Themes

“Pygmalion” by George Bernard Shaw intricately explores themes of social class, transformation, and identity. The experiment with Eliza Doolittle’s accent showcases how language shapes perceptions.

As Higgins tells Pickering about the wager, the theme of manipulation and power dynamics emerges. Higgins and Pickering’s collaboration embodies teamwork amid class divisions, while Eliza’s journey from flower girl to potential “fair lady” confronts societal norms.

The play also probes the question of marriage, as Eliza considers whether to marry Freddy, revealing societal expectations. After exploring Pygmalion themes it’s time to dive into genres.

Social Class

George Bernard Shaw dissects the entrenched social hierarchies of Edwardian England by highlighting the superficiality of class distinctions.

Through the metamorphosis of Eliza Doolittle from a lowly flower girl to a refined “duchess,” Shaw underscores the arbitrary nature of class barriers.

The stark contrast between Eliza’s Cockney accent and her cultivated upper-class speech serves as a potent symbol of the power of language to shape perceptions.

Shaw critiques a society that judges individuals based on outward appearances rather than intrinsic worth, urging readers to question the fairness of a system that impedes social mobility based on birthright.


The theme of transformation in “Pygmalion” takes center stage as Eliza’s journey from a marginalized flower girl to a poised lady underscores the potential for change inherent within individuals.

Shaw illustrates that transformation encompasses more than just linguistic and physical alterations; it involves shifts in self-perception and confidence.

However, he also probes the authenticity of such transformations when orchestrated by external forces.

Eliza’s struggle to reconcile her evolving identity with her past self exemplifies the complexities of personal growth and the tension between conforming to societal expectations and embracing genuine self-discovery.


Finally, identity is a thread that weaves through “Pygmalion,” exploring the malleability of the self under the influence of external factors.

Through the characters of Eliza and Professor Henry Higgins, Shaw prompts readers to consider the intricate relationship between self-perception and societal roles.

As Eliza grapples with her evolving identity, she underscores the powerful impact of societal expectations on shaping an individual’s sense of self.

Higgins’ linguistic experiment raises ethical questions about the authority to manipulate another person’s identity.

Shaw’s exploration of identity challenges readers to contemplate whether identity is an intrinsic essence or a fluid construct shaped by external norms and circumstances.

Genres in Pygmalion

George Bernard Shaw masterfully blends romantic comedy and social commentary.

The playful exchanges between Eliza and Freddy illuminate the romantic comedy, while Higgins’s and Pickering’s interactions form the backbone of social critique.

The diverse genres mirror Higgins’s house, transitioning from a place of linguistic experiments to a setting for emotional discoveries.

The presence of a young flower girl and Eliza’s entry into high society enriches the narrative, creating a multifaceted genre experience.

Language used in Pygmalion

Shaw’s language in “Pygmalion” crafts a dynamic atmosphere. Eliza’s entrance into Higgins’s house juxtaposes her humble origins against a backdrop of higher social class. Patrick Campbell’s influence on Shaw’s portrayal of Eliza enriches her character.

Higgins’s direct and didactic language toward Pickering underscores their partnership, while Higgins’s inquiries and Eliza’s responses demonstrate evolving linguistic patterns.

The linguistic transformation also showcases the power of words as Eliza evolves from a flower girl to someone who can challenge societal norms.

Literary devices in Pygmalion

In “Pygmalion,” George Bernard Shaw masterfully employs an array of literary devices to create a captivating narrative. Through vivid descriptions, he brings characters like Eliza and Freddy to life, while exploring themes of social class and transformation.

The play follows Eliza’s Bildungsroman, her journey from flower girl to a poised lady, echoing her moral growth and self-discovery. Shaw’s sharp wit, exemplified in Higgins’s conversations with Pickering and Eliza, utilizes irony and social satire to dissect societal norms.

The play’s symbolism, reminiscent of Shaw’s inspiration from Patrick Campbell, enhances the critique of class distinctions and power dynamics.


In “Pygmalion,” George Bernard Shaw employs similes to vividly depict characters and situations. When Higgins asks Eliza if she’s going to remain “a squashed cabbage leaf,” the simile paints an image of defeat and insignificance.

As Eliza enters Higgins’s house “like a scared cat,” the simile evokes her vulnerability, emphasizing her emotional state.

These comparisons enrich the narrative by intensifying emotions and providing readers with relatable visualizations of the characters’ experiences.


Shaw’s use of metaphors in “Pygmalion” enriches the storytelling. Eliza’s transformation under Higgins’s guidance can be seen as a metaphor for sculpting or molding, similar to how Pygmalion sculpted his ideal statue.

Higgins’s worrying over Eliza’s new independence acts as a metaphor for a father’s concern for his daughter.

As Shaw wrote the play, the metaphorical exploration of societal norms and class dynamics takes center stage. These metaphors offer depth and layers to the narrative, enhancing its thematic exploration.


“Pygmalion” employs analogies that ingeniously clarify intricate concepts.

When Higgins thinks of himself as a phonetics teacher, he establishes an analogy between his role and Pygmalion’s statue carving. Shaw’s play parallels this as Higgins, like Pygmalion, molds Eliza’s identity.

As Eliza leaves behind her flower girl origins, it resembles a butterfly’s metamorphosis from cocoon to freedom.

These analogies bridge the gap between the familiar and transformative elements, heightening comprehension while underscoring the central theme of metamorphosis.


George Bernard Shaw’s vibrant imagery in “Pygmalion” conjures immersive sensory experiences. Eliza’s return to Higgins’s house symbolizes her inner and outward journey, akin to traversing emotional landscapes.

The Eynsford Hills, embodying upper-class expectations, contrast Eliza’s transformation, visualizing class disparity.

Through vivid imagery, Shaw’s “Pygmalion” transforms into a sensory expedition, depicting Eliza’s growth and interactions with Higgins and others in striking detail.

These sensory depictions enhance the narrative’s impact and foster reader engagement.


In “Pygmalion,” the symbolism resonates through pivotal moments. Higgins’s house, a hub of linguistic transformation, becomes emblematic of societal change.

As Higgins worries over Eliza’s future, it symbolizes the unease of societal upheaval.

Teaching Eliza transcends mere phonetics; it symbolizes empowerment and personal growth. When Eliza throws Higgins’s slippers, the act mirrors her defiance against her mentor’s dominance.

Higgins’s suggestion that Eliza marries Freddy underlines the clash between societal norms and individual desires. His subsequent objection to Eliza’s independence reflects the struggle for autonomy in a world of class constraints.

These symbols intertwine to illuminate the play’s exploration of transformation, independence, and social constraints.


“Pygmalion” artfully employs personification to lend depth to its characters and setting.

The Higgins House, a crucible of transformation, takes on a persona as it witnesses the changing dynamics within.

The act of teaching Eliza goes beyond phonetics, personifying growth and self-discovery (he never managed to teach Eliza to speak).

When Higgins suggests Eliza’s marriage to Freddy, societal expectations gain life, personifying the pressure she confronts. Higgins objects and in his objection to her newfound independence, Higgins’s resistance becomes human, embodying the conflict between tradition and change.

Through these instances, the play’s characters and environment acquire dynamic qualities, reflecting the intricate interplay of emotions and societal norms.


In “Pygmalion,” hyperbole serves as a powerful narrative tool. Higgins’s character is marked by calculated exaggeration, notably in his extensive dialogue spanning pages 57-112.

As Eliza begins her transformation, the hyperbolic language emphasizes the stark contrast in her journey. Higgins’s warning of the challenges ahead exaggerates the uphill battle Eliza faces.

Her emotional turmoil, depicted in passages spanning pages 52-98, utilizes hyperbole to magnify the intensity of her experience. When Eliza makes her linguistic breakthrough, the hyperbolic expression amplifies her achievement.

Even the comedic act of throwing Higgins’s slippers becomes hyperbolic, underlining the dramatic impact of her assertion. These instances amplify character dynamics and emotional crescendos.


Higgins warns Eliza of the challenges of transformation, creating dramatic irony as the audience foresees her growth.

The act of throwing Higgins’s slippers exemplifies situational irony, as a mundane object becomes a symbol of defiance.

Eliza tells Higgins that she can do without him, showcasing verbal irony as her assertion contrasts with her reliance on his guidance.

As she asks Higgins what she should do now, it reveals dramatic irony by highlighting her newfound independence.

These ironies collectively underline the multidimensional themes and character interactions within the play, encapsulating the essence of Shaw’s Pygmalion.


Juxtaposition is a potent tool that accentuates contrasts and provokes contemplation.

When Eliza throws Higgins’s slippers, the act contrasts her newfound assertiveness against Higgins’s dominance.

The instance where Higgins likes Eliza’s newfound independence creates a striking juxtaposition with his earlier domineering attitude.

As Eliza replies to his assertion, the contrast between her response and the expectations set by society becomes evident.

Additionally, when Higgins takes Eliza’s arm at the ambassador’s party, the physical closeness juxtaposed with their emotional distance adds depth to their complex relationship.

These juxtapositions infuse the narrative with layered dynamics, intensifying the exploration of character and societal dynamics.


“Pygmalion” employs paradox to illuminate complex truths. The situation where Eliza returns, but not as Higgins’s protégé, paradoxically mirrors her transformation, questioning whether true independence is attainable within societal constraints.

When the trio of Higgins, Pickering, and also Eliza return from the ambassador’s party presents a paradox of transformation – outward appearance vs. lingering identity.

When Higgins returns to his routine after Eliza’s departure, it underlines the inherent tension between personal growth and old habits.

These paradoxes delve into the intricacies of identity, independence, and societal expectations.


The character Miss Eynsford Hill serves as an allusion to the upper class, personifying societal expectations that Eliza encounters on her transformational journey.

The trio of Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza invokes parallels to the mythological Pygmalion story, as they endeavor to reshape Eliza’s identity.

The evolving dynamic between Higgins and Eliza alludes to the relationship between Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle in Bernard Shaw’s earlier play “Pygmalion.”

These allusions amplify the play’s exploration of class dynamics, identity, and transformation, adding depth to the characters and their interactions.


“Pygmalion” carries allegorical elements that reverberate with broader themes. Eliza Doolittle’s journey symbolizes the transformative potential of language and education, mirroring society’s capacity for change.

The tale can be seen as an allegory for the struggle to transcend the limitations of social class and achieve individual empowerment.

Alfred Doolittle’s departure from his daughter’s life embodies the allegorical tension between personal freedom and societal constraints.

The presence of the young girl at the father’s wedding further underscores generational shifts, infusing the narrative with allegorical commentary on evolving societal norms.


While “Pygmalion” does not extensively engage in ekphrasis, the mention of the elderly gentleman at the father’s wedding subtly introduces an image of age and wisdom, contributing to the ambiance of the scene.

The concept of an “elderly gentleman” evokes a sense of timelessness, possibly hinting at the cyclical nature of societal change and transformation.

Although not a prominent feature, this moment of ekphrasis enriches the narrative’s texture and symbolism, adding a layer of visual imagery to the vivid world of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.”


The play subtly employs onomatopoeic words to enhance the auditory elements of the narrative.

When characters interact at the mother’s house, their dialogue and actions create a bustling atmosphere akin to the rhythmic background sounds of daily life.

The rhythm of life resounds through the pages, as characters engage in discussions and move about, breathing life into the scenes.

The very name of the author, Shaw, can be considered onomatopoeic, evoking a short, sharp sound akin to the author’s acerbic wit.


Puns play a distinct role in “Pygmalion,” often serving as humor-laden double entendres. When Pickering makes his bet with Higgins, it carries a playful double meaning, highlighting the wager’s financial and transformative aspects.

The reference to the duchess adds a layer of satire, as Higgins’s social experiment parallels the sculptor’s effort in the Pygmalion myth.

The puns within the play’s summary underscore its central themes of transformation and identity, encapsulating George Bernard Shaw’s clever wordplay that adds depth and humor to his renowned work.


In “Pygmalion,” repetition acts as a powerful tool, shaping the narrative’s themes and emotional resonance.

As Doolittle leaves his daughter, Eliza, the repeated motif of parental departure underscores the complexity of relationships and responsibilities.

The mention of the mother’s house echoes throughout, symbolizing a place of origin and societal expectations. The Eynsford Hills function as a recurring symbol of upper-class aspirations, creating contrasts and thematic depth.

As Higgins tells Eliza what to do, the repetition reflects his control and, ultimately, her quest for autonomy.

These repetitions not only reinforce themes of transformation and social mobility but also amplify the characters’ emotional journeys.

The Use of Dialogue

In “Pygmalion,” dialogue becomes a dynamic tool, weaving character traits, themes, and tension. The original moralist strand in Shaw’s intent surfaces in the characters’ discussions.

When Eliza throws Higgins’s slippers, her words resonate with defiance and newfound agency, encapsulating the play’s theme of transformation. The banter between characters like Higgins and Pickering exposes their attitudes and class dynamics, reinforcing themes of social mobility.

The dialogue also builds narrative tension, notably in pivotal scenes like the transformation process and Eliza’s emotional exchanges, crafting a layered tapestry that captures George Bernard Shaw’s acumen for storytelling.

Word Play

The play is replete with wordplay techniques, engaging the reader through puns and double entendre.

The witty banter between Higgins and Pickering showcases their linguistic prowess, while the comic exchanges in Covent Garden offer playful humor through language.

Eliza’s interactions in the flower shop and as a young flower girl are steeped in puns and wordplay, highlighting the transformative power of language.

Shaw’s playfully clever use of words adds layers of meaning and depth, resonating with the themes of societal change and personal growth.


Instances of parallelism abound in “Pygmalion,” contributing to its structural harmony and thematic exploration.

The repeated motif of telling Higgins underlines Eliza’s journey from a subservient flower girl to an independent woman, mirroring the transformation at the heart of Shaw’s play.

The parallel development of Higgins and Pickering as linguistic mentors mirror the societal shifts the characters trigger.

Such parallel structures enhance the narrative’s coherence and underscore the interconnectedness of the character’s personal growth and societal change.

Rhetorical Devices

As Eliza’s journey unfolds, rhetorical questions like “Can a woman not have a bit of privacy?” emphasize her evolving independence.

The contrasting desires of Higgins and Pickering highlight the societal divide, employing juxtaposition for rhetorical impact.

The narrative’s structure echoes rhetorical strategies, as the opening scene’s events resonate through the play.

George Bernard Shaw’s adept use of these devices amplifies the play’s societal critique, making “Pygmalion” a persuasive exploration of language, class, and transformation.

Pygmalion : FAQs

Let’s navigate through these common questions to gain a deeper understanding of the play’s enduring significance and the insights it offers into the intricacies of human behavior and society.

What is the summary of Pygmalion?

“Pygmalion” follows the transformation of Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl, into a refined lady through the efforts of Professor Henry Higgins. The play explores themes of social class, identity, and transformation as Eliza navigates London’s upper-class society.

What is the moral of Pygmalion play?

The moral of “Pygmalion” revolves around the idea that outward appearances and social status can be deceiving, highlighting the fluidity of identity and the superficiality of class distinctions. The play encourages reflection on the authenticity of personal transformation and challenges societal norms that judge individuals based on their linguistic and physical attributes.

Why is Pygmalion so important?

“Pygmalion” holds importance due to its insightful exploration of class dynamics, personal growth, and the power of language. The play’s themes are relevant across time and cultures, inviting audiences to consider the influence of societal expectations on identity and the potential for change. It also raises ethical questions about the manipulation of identity and the role of language in shaping perceptions.

What happens at the end of Pygmalion summary?

At the end of “Pygmalion,” Eliza becomes disillusioned with Higgins’ disregard for her feelings and autonomy. She asserts her independence by leaving him and deciding to forge her own path. The play concludes on an ambiguous note, leaving open the question of whether Eliza and Higgins will reunite or continue their separate journeys, highlighting the unresolved tensions between societal conformity and personal authenticity.

Summing up: Pygmalion : Summary, Plot & More

“Pygmalion,” a literary gem by George Bernard Shaw, captivates through its intricacies.

The play’s dynamic characters, notably Eliza’s transformation under Higgins and Pickering’s guidance, illuminate themes of class, identity, and societal change.

Through onomatopoeia and vivid imagery, Shaw masterfully creates a world where language shapes destinies. Paradoxes, allegorical elements, and allusions enrich its layers, prompting reflection on human nature.

The rhythmic dialogue, wordplay, and repetition of motifs create a tapestry of emotions and ideas, punctuated by moments of irony and humor.

With its exploration of transformation, independence, and the power of language, “Pygmalion” echoes as a timeless commentary on the human journey.

Other Notable Works by George Bernard Shaw

  • Arms and the Man“: Set against the backdrop of the upper-class Petkoff family and the pragmatic Captain Bluntschli, the narrative unfolds with Raina Petkoff’s transformation from an idealistic dreamer to a more pragmatic thinker.
  • Man and Superman“: This work follows the story of John Tanner, a witty and independent-minded man, who finds himself pursued by the determined Ann Whitefield. The play delves into philosophical debates about the roles of men and women, the pursuit of freedom, and the nature of love.
  • Major Barbara“: In “Major Barbara,” the clash between idealism and practicality takes center stage as Major Barbara Undershaft, a dedicated officer in the Salvation Army, confronts her father, a wealthy arms manufacturer. The play explores themes of morality, ethics, and the influence of money.
  • Candida“: This work examines the dynamics of a love triangle involving the charismatic poet Eugene Marchbanks, the reverend James Morell, and Morell’s wife, Candida. Shaw’s play delves into themes of marriage, social roles, and the power of personal connection.
  • Saint Joan“: This work chronicles the life of Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl who becomes a military leader and inspires her countrymen. Shaw’s play explores Joan’s unwavering faith, the politics of war, and the challenges of standing against societal norms.
  • The Devil’s Disciple“: This story is set during the American Revolution and centers on Richard Dudgeon, a self-proclaimed “devil’s disciple.” When he’s mistaken for a local minister, unexpected heroism emerges in a tale of sacrifice and identity.
  • Mrs. Warren’s Profession“: In “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” the daughter of a successful but morally dubious businesswoman confronts her mother’s controversial career. The play raises questions about women’s roles, societal expectations, and the ethics of economic pursuits.

"Pygmalion" echoes as a timeless commentary on the human journey.