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Pygmalion | Study Guide

George Bernard Shaw

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Professor Bill Yarrow of Joliet Junior College explains the symbols in George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion.

Pygmalion | Symbols


Flower Shop

The flower shop represents the dream that drives Eliza to Higgins's laboratory in Act 2: "I want to be a lady in a flower shop stead of selling at the corner of Tottenham Court Road," she tells Higgins and Pickering. "But they won't take me unless I can talk more genteel." It is the dream for which she is willing to transform herself. Later, when she has achieved her goal and has the speech and manners of a lady, she anxiously asks Higgins, "What am I fit for? What have you left me fit for?" Her situation is as Mrs. Higgins predicted in Act 3: Eliza has been given "the manners and habits that disqualify a fine lady from earning her own living." Though Higgins suggests that the old idea of a florist's shop might be the answer, Eliza may have outgrown that particular dream and will have to rethink her future.


Throughout the play, clothing reflects the social status of characters. For example, Higgins's slippers represent his class as well as his disregard for Eliza. As a symbol, clothing represents Eliza's metamorphosis from flower girl to lady, and Doolittle's rise from dustman to gentleman. When Eliza is introduced in Act 1, she is "not at all an attractive person." Her sailor hat of black straw is coated in London soot. She wears a long, worn black coat and a brown skirt with a coarse apron. She has worn-down boots, and in general she is quite dirty. In Act 2, as a step toward her transformation, Higgins's housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce, burns Eliza's old clothes and orders her a new wardrobe. By Act 4, Eliza the lady presents a stark contrast to Eliza the flower girl. On the night of her triumph, she is clothed in an "opera cloak, brilliant evening dress, and diamonds, with fan, flowers, and all accessories." Her clothing reflects her thorough and willing transformation, inside and out.

Eliza's dustman father, Doolittle, illustrates that a change of clothing may alter other people's perceptions, but those looks can be deceiving. When he makes an entrance in Act 2, he is "clad in the costume of his profession" and "has a professional flavor of dust about him." He is happy and proud to be one of "the undeserving poor." By Act 5, his unlooked-for rise in wealth is apparent when he arrives at the home of Mrs. Higgins wearing a "fashionable frock-coat, with white waistcoat and grey trousers ... dazzling silk hat, and patent leather shoes." He appears every inch a gentleman and is announced as such by the parlor-maid. However, his new look is misleading. While his social standing has risen, his only gentlemanly attributes are those that have been forced upon him as "middle class morality claims its victim."


In Act 2, Eliza is given a bath for the first time in memory. Shocked that the procedure requires removing all her clothes, she is even more shocked to find a mirror in the bathroom. She doesn't know "which way to look" and finally hangs a towel over it. However, this represents the moment when Eliza unguardedly "sees" herself as she is—dirty, disheveled, and far from ladylike in her personal habits. The bath proves to be a treat, and the positive effects are immediately evident. Cloaked in a blue cotton kimono, she emerges looking like "a dainty and exquisitely clean young Japanese lady." Her own father, who has come to see what Higgins is up to, fails to recognize her at first, and then comments, "Well, I never thought she'd clean up as good looking as that, Governor. She's a credit to me, ain't she?" Eliza's glimpse in the mirror reveals to her the need for a change, and the results of the bath prove that change is possible. Thus, the mirror symbolizes self-awareness and identity.

Questions for Symbols

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Visit several public buildings and evaluate their interior design. Document color choices and flow in space that provide the overall feel of the interior and reflect the purpose of that building. Revi
This time you have to read a situation and then write a sentence with a sentence with a question tag. In each example you are asking your listener to agree with you. Example : You are with a friend ou
Refute the statement below by using at least one example to show how the point is in error or illogical. Sum up the opposite point of view, the one you are proving in the last sentence to make a stron
Oates has specifically mentioned the "Death and the Maiden" folktales as one inspiration for this story (see "Death and the Maiden" under " Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory "). Some literary critics have
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