Tag Archives: George Bernard Shaw

The Mobility of Social Class

14 Apr

George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion comprises various topics and themes. The most dominant and obvious, however, is concerned with social class, particularly class distinctions. Through his use of different characters, Shaw clearly presents the distinction between different classes. Throughout the play, he represents the different factors that drive the wedge between classes, which include language, appearances, decorum, education and wealth. The satire mainly lies in the factor of language, as the play is centered on the fact (or theme) that simply changing one’s way of speaking or accent enables class mobility. Higgins, the professor of phonetics (and one of the protagonists of the play) believes wagers that he can turn Eliza Doolittle, a common flower girl, into a lady within six months, merely by working on her speech.

“You have no idea how frightfully interesting it is to take a human being and changer her into a quite different human being by creating a new speech for her. It’s filling up the deepest gulf that separates class from class and soul from soul,” says Higgins to his mother (3. 223-224).

Thus, one can sense the folly Shaw is presenting with class distinctions, and that they can be based on the most superficial, negligible things. This is especially reinforced by Higgins’s lighthearted, experimental attitude towards this project, which he treats as a “bet”. Shaw even goes further to reveal that intra-class distinctions are just as existent as inter-class distinctions. This can be represented by the Enysford Hills, who he represents as the “genteel” poor. They may have the social etiquette and appearances of the middle class, but in terms of wealth, they are more like Eliza. Hence, they represent the “lower middle class”.

Today, such class distinctions still exist. In the United States, there are so many different opinions of the social strata that are present. Some believe in the “three-class theory”, which includes the rich, middle class and the poor. Others believe that many more social strata exist, particularly within classes. Nonetheless, unlike Shaw’s play, class mobility in the States, and probably most other countries, is not as easy or enabled by something as simple as changing your manner of speaking. In other words, society is not as easily “fooled” by shallow things such as appearances and speech as Shaw’s society is by Eliza. In the U.S., class distinctions are more fixed, based more on income, the family you are born into and education. When a people are born into lower class families, they are often stuck in those conditions, as they are more limited in wealth, and therefore, education. Of course, there are countless stories of people born into poor families who become successful and manage to get quality education, but one cannot simply ignore their background and the family in which they have been raised. The reality is that it requires much more work and yearning to transform to a higher class, at least, more than the few months that it took Eliza to develop her speech.


George Bernard Shaw Bio

9 Mar

George Bernard Shaw was born on 26th of July, in 1856. He was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. He attended the Wesley College in Dublin , then grammar school operated by the Methodist Church in Ireland and in the end transferred to Dublin’s Central Model School after moving to a private school near Dalkey. The start of his career was when he was sponsored by William Archer and became a critic of the arts, by joining the reviewing staff of the Pall Mall Gazette and was writing under a pseudonym “Corno di Bassetto” which meant “basset horn”, because it sounded European and no one knew what it meant.  Between 1879 and 1883, Shaw wrote 5 unsuccesful novels that were published eventually called Cashel Byron’s Profession, An Unsocial Socialist, Love Among the Artists, The Irrational Knot and Immaturity. In 1898 he married Charlotte Payne-Townshend who he outlived. That year he also bought his first camera and was an active amateur photographer. Shaw was active in local politics and served in London County Council. In his works he examined education, marriage, religion, government, health care and class privilege. Shaw was the only person who was awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and Oscar (1938) for his contributions to literature and his work on the film Pygmalion. He wanted to refuse his Nobel Prize but in the end he accepted it and donated the money for Swedish to English translation purposes. He died at the age of 94, on the 2nd of November in 1950.

Speech Therapy

8 Mar

               Speech therapy is treatment for pronunciation and language disorders. One can be diagnosed with such a disorder due to an inability of producing certain sounds or inability of constructing sentences of one’s own.  Demand for speech therapy rose sharply in the turn of the century, more specifically 1890 to 1920. This rise was mainly due to four reasons.

                Primarily, what led to a desire for speech therapy was the increased awareness of what communication is, and what problems miscommunication caused. The general populations in Europe were starting to realize that speech was one of the most important factors in their life. After seeing the atrocities of WWI presumably all Europeans had felt the grave problems miscommunication caused. Secondly, changing population demographics in Europe, especially the most industrialized countries such as Britain or France communication became extremely important. Thirdly technological and social advances who almost everyone wanted to know about. Education was developing and to develop with trends and breakthroughs the general population of Europe had to perfect their communication abilities. Another relatively small factor is that many soldiers fighting in WWI had speech disabilities due to the use of poison gas during the war. Soldiers who wanted to recover their pre-war speech abilities appealed to Speech and Language Pathologists. Finally, the mere expansion of speech therapy services led to a desire to perfect speech. Now Speech Language Pathologists did not only give lectures in universities but instead chose to establish clinics aiding those suffering from speech disabilities.

The Pygmalion Effect

5 Mar

If you believe it, it will happen.
This is the core of what is known as the “Pygmalion Effect”, or self-fulfilling prophesy. When we think positively and have positive expectations, we will receive these positive outcomes. The same goes for negative thinking. If you believe that you will fail a test, it’s no coincidence that you will fail the test. More in terms of the “Pygmalion” aspect of this phenomenon, it is especially true for our expectations of others, as they will influence and ultimately become that person’s belief and result. People pick up on these other’s expectations of themselves through certain cues, whether through verbal or non-verbal communication. This latter effect was inspired by Ovid’s Greek myth. Pygmalion, the Prince and sculptor of Cyprus, created an ivory statue of his “ideal woman”, naming her Galatea. His mind was filled with the fact that she was perfect and he soon fell in love with her, so much that he asked Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, to bring her to life. The Goddess granted him this wish and the two got married, living happily ever after. The Pygmalion effect comes into play as Pygmalion had expected the perfect woman, and indeed received one.

The Pygmalion Effect

This motif has also made an appearance in modern art and literature. George Bernard Shaw adapted this myth into a famous play, of which the plot is about a professor who believes he can transform a low-class flower girl into a high-class duchess. In this case, Professor Henry Higgins adopts the role of ‘Pygmalion’ and the flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, adopts the role of ‘Galatea’, the statue. However, there are considerable differences between the characters in the play and in the myth. Firstly, Higgins’ intentions for ‘creating’ the woman differ to Pygmalion’s. Higgins’ changes a woman for selfish reasons, while Pygmalion does it out of love and desire. In the end, in context of the play, Eliza claims independence whereas in the myth, the two become a happy couple.

This phenomenon has also caught the attention of those in the realm of science. Fascinated by this effect, many psychologists have put it to the test. A common example could be observed in teacher’s expectations of their students. A famous study was done by Rosenthal & Jacobson (1968) on elementary school students, who first had to complete an IQ test at the beginning of the school year. Teachers were then deceived into thinking certain students (chosen at random) were more likely to succeed academically than others. After a few months, the students were then re-tested and those that were allotted as more capable than others had significantly higher results compared to their pre-test. Of course, the teachers had not communicated (verbally) which students they considered to have more potential than the others. It was more likely to be implied through body language, which the students must have picked up on, even if subconsciously. Thus, it is clear that the teachers influenced the children’s beliefs, causing some to have lower expectations of themselves and others to have higher ones. This supports the theory that expectations become reality; when a student is expected to excel, s/he will most probably do so.