Essay, Research Paper: Pygmalion


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I chose the archetype “The prostitute with a heart of gold”. An archetype is
defined as a universal idea that can take many forms, appearing
“spontaneously, at any time, at any place, and without any outside
influence” (Pygmalion’s Word Play, Carl Jung, p. 82). When present in the
unconscious, an archetype shapes thoughts, feelings, moods, speech, and actions.
The ‘prostitute with a heart of gold’ originated in early Greek mythology as
the story of Pygmalion. Next, a more modern version called My Fair Lady was
written and performed in the 1950’s. Then in the 1980’s the movie Pretty
Woman came out, which has the same story line as the other two, although it is a
lot more modernized and the theme of a ‘prostitute with a heart of gold’ is
much more evident than in of its predecessors. Although ‘the oldest
profession’ was just as large a factor in society in 1912 when George Bernard
Shaw’s Pygmalion play was released as it is today, it was talked about much
less freely and the idea of reforming street girl was not as feasible as it is
today. “My Fair Lady” was one of the first versions of a poor street girl
metamorphasizing into an elegant, proper lady. Pretty Woman can closely trace
its roots back to “My Fair Lady,” because both women reform to a better life
that they never dreamed was possible, the most striking difference being that
Pretty Woman is a more modernized version and the evidence of prostitution is
much more evident. In the story of Pygmalion, he wanted a wife, yet he saw too
much corruption in women and always doubted their true motives. He was a very
talented sculptor, and one day he began sculpting an ivory maiden statue. No
woman was physically comparable to this statue, not the most perfect naturally
created woman. His art was so good that it caught him in his own web of deceit.
Eventually Pygmalion fell in love with this counterfeit creation, full well
knowing that he would drive himself mad obsessing over an inanimate object while
at the same time knowing that nothing good could come from his love. He caressed
her, gave her presents and decorated her body with fine clothing and jewels. He
even laid her on his royal bed at night to sleep, calling her his wife. Finally,
the festival of Venus came and Pygmalion stood before the altar and timidly
said, “Give me, I pray to you for my wife” - he dared not say “my ivory
wife”, but said instead - “One like my ivory virgin” (“Metamorphoses by
Ovid, p.10). The golden goddess of Venus knew that he meant he wanted his statue
to be his wife, so she granted his wish. When Pygmalion returned home he placed
his hands upon his statue, and to his surprise she felt warm and alive! Her lips
became soft, and her skin molded to his touch. Nine months later a baby girl was
born to them. In this Greek myth Pygmalion creates an ideal woman, made out of
ivory. Although he never expected her to become real he still treated her like
his wife and took great care of her. Eventually his wish was granted and she was
brought to life. The perfect woman, in his eyes, was now his wife. Pygmalion
created and formed this woman, showing that if you want something bad enough and
love it as much as he loved his statue, you can make it happen. In “My Fair
Lady,” written during the era of the 1950’s in England, there was a high
aristocratic society which demarcates itself from the rest of English society,
consisting of the elegantly dressed bourgeois class sharply contrasting the poor
peasant class. Eliza Doolittle, a disheveled cockney flower vender who was lucky
enough to catch the eye of a Professor Henry Higgins who gives her an offer she
can’t refuse. Higgins is a well known phonetic expert who studies “...the
science of speech...speech patterns and their corresponding locations...” (Pygamalion,
p.19). He brutally criticizes Eliza’s detestable ‘boo-hooing” and crude
pronunciations of words. To the snobby, intolerant Higgins inarticulateness and
ignorance concerning proper dialect and language produces a ‘verbal class
distinction’ that functions as an external indicator of what class in society
you belong to. He cannot understand why some English men and women do not take
the time to learn how to speak proper English. Higgins makes the offer to Eliza
to stay with him for six months and he would teach her how to speak articulately
enough to pass in the most exclusive social gathering, the Embassy Ball, without
anyone being aware of her Cockney origins, which is no small task. He says that
she will become a proper aristocratic lady who speaks proper English. Once Eliza
and Professor Higgins begin ‘business,’ they practice the skills and
pronunciations of the proper use of English. Everyday they repeatedly practice
Eliza’s grammar, dialects, and speech patterns with a recording device that
enables Eliza to learn from her own mistakes. In just weeks there are dramatic
differences in Eliza’s speech patterns that are apparent by listening to their
recording lessons. Not only has her English improved, but her manners and
etiquette have improved as well, due to the help of Professor Higgins. Months
later, Eliza has been transformed into ‘one of them,’ a member of the
exclusive bourgeois class in England, able to ‘pass’ at any social event she
chooses, which is no easy accomplishment. Thanks to Professor Higgins, Eliza can
mingle with the ‘snobs’ of the elite class, and no one has any idea where
she is originally from. Higgins has not only traversed the ‘phonetic
stream,’ transforming one polar opposite dialect into another, but he has
simultaneously developed an affection for his star pupil. Although he denies it
to by telling himself that he can live just the same without her, just as he did
before, he knows it is just a lie. The six months have passed quickly, and it is
time for Eliza to leave. Eliza is a fresh new woman, and is capable of playing
off the aristocratic role, to live a sophisticated and proper life of her own.
In fact she won the heart of a fine gentleman, Freddy, and is planning a
marriage with him. Higgins is surprised, although he doesn’t show it, and
continues to act as if he is not bothered at all by this development. In his
mind though, he’s remembering how accustomed he has grown to her face, that he
will soon miss. The two say their ‘good-byes,’ and Higgins returns home to
find himself listening to the first recordings of Eliza. Shortly thereafter
Eliza returns back to Higgins home and surprises him with the truth of her true
feelings for him. She finally admits to herself that she has grown to love both
him and his lifestyle, and that Freddy is not her true love. The story of “My
Fair Lady” is similar to Pygmalion because of the similarities between the
archetypal characters Professor Higgins and Pygmalion. Professor Higgins has the
intelligence and ability to take a poor and uneducated woman with no manners and
sculpt her into an elegant and sophisticated lady who is able to ascend into the
upper echelons of high society from the streets of England seamlessly. At the
same time, Professor Higgins has unknowingly ‘molded’ Eliza into his ideal
woman. On the other hand, although Pygmalion did not actually teach and
transform his statue into his ideal woman, his undying hope for an ideal
intellectual mate to suit the physical beauty he created brought together divine
intervention with divine creation and formed his ideal woman, in his eyes.
Again, this is evidence that anything is possible, if you really devote your
mind to it. Although Professor Higgins was rude and snobby, he still held a
strong belief in his ideal and it took a lot of devotion to take an unmolded
human being and bring qualities out in her that no one ever thought were there.
This example gives hope to every little girl who aspires to be something she is
not. Although Professor Higgins did bring to the surface the elite qualities
that were necessary to fit into society at this time, it was the untapped
potential in Eliza which made it possible for her to fit in and have confidence
to become something that she wasn’t previously. “Higgins clearly lacks the
eroticism of Ovid’s Pygmalion, but his distaste for women in life’s gutters,
his passion for creation, for an art that conceals its art in carrying a thing
of beauty from raw materials, his dressing Eliza in gowns and jewels, and his
desire to articulate life and achieve an ideal, all echo Ovid’s hero.
Pygmalion’s passions finally impregnate his creation; Higgins finally sparks
Eliza to give birth to the woman within her” (Berst, p.13). Eliza’s growth
involves increasing self-realization, an evolution from a lower to a higher
state of being, and an important quality that sometimes is not innately there
and must be developed. Pygmalion spent great time and effort in creating his
ideal woman. This gives hope to society, especially the lower classes, that one
can change and succeed if they just try hard enough. The more advanced and
modern version of “My Fair Lady” was spawned in a film entitled Pretty
Woman. This 1980’s film is more blunt than it’s predecessors because the
‘Higgins’ character (played by Richard Gere) chooses a prostitute (Julia
Roberts) not as someone to try to ‘pass’ into high society, but as a
companion to himself. The movie takes place in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, in a
wealthy area in present day, and is not so unlikely a scenario to happen
considering the day and age that we live in today. Gere is a rich, cool
executive who finds a soft spot for Roberts, who turns out to be a strikingly
honest, real and charming woman. Gere decides to hire her for business and
social reasons (as a woman for display) with the agreement that she is treated
like a princess for a week. She gets a new wardrobe, goes to the opera, and
learns proper etiquette manners for fine dining. We see Higgins plight
paralleled in Gere’s attempt to pass her off as a normal, Beverly Hills
debutante. We see Eliza Doolittle represented in Roberts because she decides she
wants more from Gere than money. Julia ends up like a fairy tale character,
succeeding in passing as well as ‘getting her man,’ like Eliza Doolittle and
similar to Pygmalion’s statue. Each woman is transformed into a new identity.
“My Fair Lady” and Pretty Woman are the stories that more young women will
be able to take inspiration from and shows once again that it’s very possible
to find true women with hearts of gold. Pretty Woman really shows society that
regardless of your living status, class or occupation, all women have the
ability to grow, change and succeed buried deep inside. Not all prostitutes or
street people are helpless, and meaningless. They can have genuine hearts as
well and sometimes they are truly more honest and real because of the
experiences that they have lived through and the challenges they have faced thus
far in their lives. In all three stories, both the man and woman can be seen as
an archetypal hero. Pygmalion, Professor Higgins and Richard Gere all each take
the risk of helping these women, and society could view them negatively for
their involvement with the lower class. Eliza and Julia take a big risk in being
stepped on and being ridiculed lower than they already are compared to the
men’s lifestyles. They are archetypal heroes because they have strong
character and are willing to change. These women have the confidence and ability
to change and this shows society that again, anything is possible. The only
downfall was the verbal abuse both women took from the elite class, as they were
learning to adapt. High society doesn’t appreciate or care for prostitutes,
but for everyone to be fooled and convinced of this new woman shows their
absurdity. A person has a heart of gold regardless of their status even if it is
not evident to the naked eye.
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