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146Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture 147

ISSN 1923-1555[Print]
ISSN 1923-1563[Online]

Discourse and Power in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion

Hossein Pirnajmuddin1,*; Fatemeh Shahpoori Arani2

1Ph.D. Assistant Professor of English Literature, English Department,
Faculty of Foreign Languages, University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran
2M.A. graduate of English Literature, Sheikh-bahaei University, Iran
Email: [email protected]
*Corresponding author.
Email: [email protected]

Received 20 September 2011; accepted 23 November 2011

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion addresses the
discourse of education (linguistic retraining in particular)
and its interrelationship with other discourses, such as
class, and the transformation of individual and social
self. It also deals with the dynamics of teacher-student
power relationship in the context of education discourse.
Believing that education should produce humane and
responsible citizens instead of docile slaves, Shaw
displays the evils of an incompetent education system.
This article explores the discourse of education, its
effects on other discourses - particularly that of class -
and the knowledge and power it produces with emphasis
on Foucault’s theories about power, knowledge, and
discourse. In addition to the Foucauldian conceptualization
of discourse, linguistic discourse analysis (conversational
analysis) is also applied to examine the link between
the language use and the modality of power relations in
Pygmalion. The aim is to display how education discourse
functions through disciplinary productive power and
gives rise to a kind of social knowledge. Shaw’s play, it
is argued, intimates that an education incommensurate
with socio-cultural factors could probably empower the
marginal social subjects but it would also displace them,
rather than truly promote them, socially.
Key words: Bernard Shaw; Pygmalion; Education;
Michel Foucault; Knowledge; Discourse; Power

Hossein Pirnajmuddin, Fatemeh Shahpoori Arani (2011). Discourse
and Power in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Studies in Literature

and Language, 3 (3), 146-152. Available from: URL: http://www.

One of the great inventions of bourgeois society, which has
been a ‘fundamental instrument in the constitution of industrial
capitalism and of the type of society that is its accompaniment’
has been the incorporation of power relations through discipline,
in a web of interconnected strategies designed to produce ‘docile
bodies’ in various institutional settings and cultural habits
-armies, factories, hospitals, schools, and salons. (Foucault, as
cited in Leps, 2004, p.278)

As a committed socialist and dramatist, Bernard
Shaw’s primary goal was to reform the existing social
conditions and theatrical conventions by his works;
he believed that any work of art should have a social
function (MacDonald, 2006, p.64). Conscious of the
moral rottenness of bourgeoisie and the evils of capitalism
and poverty, Shaw devoted himself to the cause of

pp.25-6). As John Gassner also observes, Shaw rejected
the doctrine of art for art’s sake and nihilistic tendencies,
and regarded art as a means of liberation from materialism
(1970, p.298). To enhance the intellectual consciousness
of his people and to improve their social condition, Shaw
dramatized the relation between sexes, the individual and
society, and the problems of conscience, marriage, and
religion (Purdom, 1963, p.99). Some of his writings are
also a critique of the education system. He believes that
the education system should produce perfect humans,
but in fact, the education system of his time was an
organization which taught useless things by rote, and
involved physical punishment (Griffith, 1993, p.146).
Shaw’s remarks on his own education are revealing:

‘It was simply dragging a child’s soul through the dirt’.
Incompetent teachers teaching an unnatural curriculum, that was
the sum of it…. The school system made progress impossible. It
destroyed responsibility, producing nothing but a lump of docile
wage slaves, without self-respect or any regard for authority,
wholly unsuited for citizenship in a modern state... (as cited in

Studies in Literature and Language
Vol. 3, No. 3, 2011, pp. 146-152

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146 147 Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture

Shaw’s Pygmalion (1913) deals with the theme

of education (in general and language retraining in
particular) and its influence on the agents’ social and
individual relationships. In the preface to Pygmalion,
Shaw points out that the reason for writing this play is
that the English neither speak their language properly,
nor teach their children to speak properly. They need a
phonetician to reform their way of speaking and spelling
(1953, p.213). Hence, in this play Shaw probes the
discourse of education and the dynamics of teacher-
student power relations. He presents the relation between
this discourse and other discourses, most importantly
class, and the idea of self-fashioning as a complex one.
The notion of self-fashioning is of paramount importance,
for, as the play also in its own way intimates, “subjects
are not found in the world but are invented, that they can
take possession of their fabricated lives by becoming their
own authors…” (Porter, 2005, p.121). This paper offers
a reading of Shaw’s play in terms of Michel Foucault’s
concepts of knowledge, power and discourse which is
used in two senses: the Foucauldian and the linguistic one.
It is argued that though education can swing the pendulum
of power towards the marginalized social subjects through
knowledge, when incommensurate with the socio-cultural
moorings of the subjects it can dislocate their social self.

In Pygmalion’s class-conscious society, major
characters are almost discriminated according to their
social class and level of education: on the lower side
stands the uneducated-ragged flower girl defined in
terms of the lower-class standards and on the upper side
the professor of phonetics representing the power and
ideology of the upper-class. Hence, in the play the social
agent’s ’self’ and his/her individual and social relations
are constructed by mainly the discourses of class and
education. Drawing on the Foucauldian conception of
discourse, it is evident that important dimensions of
this society are constructed by discourses which are

Foucault discourse “is made up of a limited number of
statements for which a group of conditions of existence
can be defined” (1972, p.131). Actually, in Foucault’s
terms, discourse refers to all statements which have
meaning and effect, and the set of rules which make the
circulation of certain statements possible (Mills, 2003,
pp.53-4). In Pygmalion the discourse of class is ordered
around the privileged signs of family, clothing, and
language. Right from the initial act the difference between
Eliza and others is evident. She is the illegitimate child
of a broken family thrown out to earn her own living by

dustman accustomed to drinking, extorting money, and
engaged in love affairs. Her family state attaches Eliza
to working-class with its culture and way of life which
are defined against the upper-class culture negatively

as vulgar and inhuman. Being grown up in a working-
class family, Eliza does not have a chance for formal

of the play, is the product of her lower-class family
culture and the strict disciplines of her father. One of the
scenes demonstrating Eliza’s different way of life is her
commentary on bathing:

…it’s easy to clean up here. Hot and cold water on tap... Wooly
towels, there is... Soft brushes to scrub yourself, and a wooden
bowl of soap smelling like primroses. Now I know why ladies is
so clean. Washing’s a treat for them. Wish they saw what it is for
the like of me. (II., lines. 580-5)

Eliza’s comments imply that if the working-class had
access to such equipments, they could be as clean as
ladies and gentlemen. Eliza is deprived of such free-
and-easy life due to the low state of her family. As Shaw
demonstrates clothing and cleanliness are two factors

society of England. Eliza’s appearance is a good evidence
for this claim:

She wears a little sailor hat of black straw that has long been
exposed to the dust and soot of London and has seldom if ever
been brushed. Her hair needs washing rather badly… She wears
a shoddy black coat... She has a brown skirt with a coarse
apron... She is no doubt as clean as she can afford to be; but
compared to the ladies she is very dirty. (I., lines.46-52)

Shaw describes Eliza’s appearance in length to foreground

that of others. In comparison to the ladies wearing clean
evening dress, she is not wearing fashionable clothes and
is very dirty.

In terms of pronunciation and speech manner, also,
Eliza inherits something from her family and class.
In most modern societies, usually, the accent of an
elite section of society is used in public contexts as
the ‘legitimate’ language, or Received Pronunciation,
and other dialects and their speakers are characterized,
negatively in relation to the standard language, as
disgraceful (Bonvillain, 2003, p.371). Hence, Eliza’s
lack of linguistic competence and her ungrammatical
sentences are markers of her different class and social
status: “Ow, eez ye-ooa san, is e? Wal, fewd dan y' de-
ooty bawmz a mather should, eed now bettern to spawl

py me f' them?” (I., lines.55-7). Uttering expressions like

at the at-home party, stems from linguistic habits that
Eliza has inherited from her family and would keep her
in the gutter forever. But Higgins proposes he can fashion
a new ’self’ for her by teaching her a genteel language,
so that she can work as a lady in a florist’s shop. Eliza
appreciates the idea and her formal education commences.
Eliza’s second transformed self emerges from the upper-
class training she receives from her teachers Higgins and
Pickering. This exemplifies the Foucauldian concept of
discourse which maintains that discourses, here mainly
those of class and education, affect the construction of

Hossein Pirnajmuddin; Fatemeh Shahpoori Arani (2011).
Studies in Literature and Language, 3(3), 146-152

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148Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture 149

Discourse and Power in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion

social subjects and forms of ’self’. Eliza’s lower-class
culture has made her vulgar in comparison to cultivated
characters like the Higginses and Eynsford Hills.

Moreover, these discourse practices are interdependent.
That is, on the one hand, formal education is confined
to certain classes and working-class people are mostly
deprived of it. Therefore, the level of education of a
person depends on his/her social class. On the other hand,
education affects a subject’s social class and opens the
way to other classes. In the rules of the education it is
presumed that higher education increases the possibility
of gaining a better job and a higher income, two issues
which are related to the discourse of class. On entering
Higgins’s house, Eliza begins to pick up the upper-class’s
free-and-easy way of life. By taking a bath in Higgins’s
house, Eliza sloughs off her former vulgarism and her new
’self’ starts to emerge gradually as her linguistic retraining
starts. Chen Lihua suggests a feminist expression for this
self recreation: “the creation of woman-child by man-
God” (2006, pp.41-44).

Pygmalion, these discourses are produced through the
exercise of power. At the outset, the relations of power
exercised by Higgins over Eliza figure as class-based.
The class discourse determines that Higgins, an educated
wealthy male from the upper-class, stands in a higher
position in comparison to Eliza, an illiterate flower
vendor from the working-class. Higgins exercises his
power over Eliza through dominating strategies which
are, interestingly, mostly linguistic ones such as using an
abusive-authoritative language, interrupting and forcing
her to silence repeatedly. This class-based power relation
turns into a disciplinary one based on reforming Eliza’s
behavior when her linguistic retraining starts. And this
is through disciplinary power that Eliza’s new ’self’
emerges. Power in this sense has a close affinity with
Foucault’s insight about power: that in modern age “power
is neither given, nor exchanged, nor recovered, but rather
exercised, and that it only exists in action” (1980, p.89).
For Foucault power ‘individualizes’ agents and “certain
bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires,

p.98). It follows that power is productive and it “does not
repress. In particular it invites people to speak: to assess
and articulate themselves” (During, 1992, p.131). We will
see how, in the end, the ‘new Eliza’ gains the power to
articulate her protest at her teacher’s offensive behavior or
actually she gains power through this articulation.

The education discourse is an area for the exercise
of normalizing rules of disciplinary power. In the realm
of education, power is exercised by the teacher over
the student through subjecting him/her to constant
observation, teaching and examination. Hence, students
turn into objects of knowledge about whom records and

the educational schedule designed for Eliza:

you are to live here for the next six months, learning how to

and do whatever you’re told, you shall sleep in a proper bed-
room, and have lots to eat, and money to buy chocolates and
take rides in taxis. If you’re naughty and idle you will sleep in
the back kitchen among the black beetles, and be walloped by
Mrs. Pearce with a broomstick. At the end of six months you
shall go to Buckingham Palace in a carriage, beautifully dressed.
(II., lines.274-7)
Higgins’s highly positive opinion on his system of

education meets others' rejection. For them Higgins is a
selfish misogynist feeling no respect for others. To him
Eliza is no more than a senseless baggage deserving
broomstick and dustbin, and useful only for fetching
things and reminding him of his appointments. He finds
it interesting “to take a human being and change her into
a quite different human being by creating a new speech

from class and soul from soul” (III., lines.313-14). He is
only interested in the process of fashioning a new identity
for Eliza and is ignorant of the fact that his teaching
disqualifies Eliza for earning her own living. As Tracy
C. Davis remarks, Higgins enslaves and colonizes Eliza
by teaching her and taking away her independence as a

One appealing point about Shaw’s characters, as
Vimala Herman observes, is that they often use turn length
to reveal their argumentative dexterities (1995, p.119),
and their power relation and dominant-subordination
position are reflected in their conversation. Therefore,
a linguistic analysis of the characters’ conversational
interaction would shed more light on the nature of their
power relation. Some researchers have been attentive
to this point. Zhang Yan, for example, has applied the
method of stylistic analysis to explore the conversational
discourse in Acts I and V of Pygmalion whereby showing
the change of power relation between Higgins and Eliza
(2007, pp.107-11). Yan explains that in Act I Higgins
ill-treats Eliza and addresses her by disgraceful names,

respect. Moreover, Yan analyzes Higgins and Eliza’s
verbal interaction in Acts I and V statistically by showing
the number of turns taken by them on charts. Yan’s tables
show that, for example, on page 25 (Act I) Eliza has taken
one turn and Higgins 4 turns. While on page 121(Act V)
Eliza has taken 7 turns and Higgins 2 turns (2007, pp.109-
10). In addition, Yan points to the linguistic complexity
of their speech and their speech control in these two Acts.
This paper tries to make more of this insight, through
more examples, to analyze the modality of the operation
of discourses (both in the Foucauldian and linguistic

From the outset, as Yan has discussed, Higgins
evidently establishes himself as a domineering male
character and the power relation between Eliza and
Higgins is not balanced. Sara Mills points out that
according to Foucault “where there are imbalances of

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148 149 Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture

Hossein Pirnajmuddin; Fatemeh Shahpoori Arani (2011).
Studies in Literature and Language, 3(3), 146-152

power relations between groups of people or between
institutions/state, there will be a production of knowledge”
(2005, p.69). During Eliza’s linguistic retraining, Higgins
observes Eliza’s habits and verbal manners, jots down
notes and records her speech on phonograph disks. As a
scientist, Higgins treats others not as human beings but as
objects (in the Foucauldian sense) for his experiments in
linguistics. He accepts to teach Eliza, neither out of love,
nor for money, but rather because she has an interesting
accent and provides him with a good case for his studies.
Eliza becomes the object of Higgins’s surveillance and

but, considering Foucault’s assertions about knowledge,
we could say that the object of this modern knowledge is
‘man’ (here Eliza) confined to a specific time and space
(During, 1992, p.93) and it belongs to the domain of
socio-linguistics about different marginal accents. This is
the same knowledge that, in the initial act, helps Higgins
to place, phonetically, everybody by his/her accent;
through the exercise of such knowledge subjects are also
placed socially.

Higgins’s exercise of power is contrasted by Eliza’s
resistance and counter-bidding. When Higgins addresses
Pickering: “shall we ask this baggage to sit down, or shall
we throw her out of the window?” (II., lines.74), though
Eliza is not addressed, she grabs a turn to defend herself:
“Ah-ah-oh-ow-ow-owo-oo!... I won’t be called a baggage
when I’ve offered to pay like any lady” (II., lines.75-6).
Eliza is not totally submissive and asks Higgins to speak
respectfully to her. She is ready to pay for her lessons
and does not ask for any favor: “…Well, you wouldn’t
have the face to ask me the same for teaching me my own
language as would for French; so I won’t give more than
a shilling. Take it or leave It” (II., lines.107-9). In the

offer of money for her lessons and after that whatever she
says are reactions to Higgins’s actions. Other turns in the
segment, form a round of speech between Higgins and
Pickering from which Eliza is excluded. Higgins addresses
Pickering and starts to comment patronizingly on Eliza’s
offer, that one shilling from Eliza’s income equals sixty or
seventy guineas from a millionaire’s. Every now and then
Eliza takes a turn, though not addressed, to say that she is
not to pay sixty pounds, but Higgins interrupts and forces
her into silence. This conversation ends with Higgins’s
face-threatening statement that Eliza will be walloped
by a broomstick, if she does not stop sniveling. It is

language is not taken seriously by Higgins and others. But
gradually, it is firmly established and becomes the main
topic of their discussion.

Actually, Eliza’s words show that her linguistic
competence is not mature enough yet, and she cannot
understand Higgins’s witty remarks about her offer.
Higgins uses a left-handed compliment to imply that
Eliza’s offer is generous but at the same time emphasizes

his superiority in not needing such money. He understands
the gap between the poor and the rich but Eliza does not.
Eliza does not grasp the witticism of Higgins’ statement
about her offer, which contains a hard fact indeed,
because she is not conscious of the social structure of her
society. The knowledge of linguistic codes gives Higgins
a kind of power without which Eliza is the disadvantaged
interlocutor during the mixed-sex interaction. Eliza’s
attempts to interact with Higgins are frustrated by
Higgins’s fluent and complex speech interruptions and
blocking strategies which lessen Eliza’s chance for turn-
taking, hence, she gains little opportunity for speaking.
Her individuality is not acknowledged initially (from the
outset of the play she is referred to as the Flower Girl);
only when she enters Higgins’s house and he asks her
name, she becomes an individual named Eliza Doolittle.
This is the first step towards ‘individualization’ of this

But the at-home party (the occasion for examining
Eliza’s behavior in society after a period of acculturation
which, according to Foucault, is a necessary step for the
discourse of disciplinary power (1980, pp.105-7)) proves
that something has changed. Eliza is ordered to keep
to two subjects of weather and everybody’s health and
avoid general ideas. At the first step, Higgins rectifies
Eliza’s pronunciation, but the big problem is what she
pronounces. At the party everything goes smoothly till the

ruin herself by talking about her aunt’s death. Despite her
improper speech topic and vulgar behavior, Eliza controls
the topic of conversation and directs others’ attention to
her speech. In this segment, the turn-taking alternates
between Eliza and other persons present at the party. The
pattern of turn distribution (Mrs. Higgins, Eliza, Freddy,
Eliza, Freddy, Mrs. Eynsford, Eliza, …) denotes that Eliza
is central to the conversation and all turns are addressed to
her. Higgins, though present, not only does not interrupt
Eliza, but also backs her up by saying that her speech is a
new small talk and that to ‘do someone in’ means to kill
him. It is the first time, from the outset of the play, that
Eliza is the central participant in the conversation without
being interrupted or being forced into turn-grabbing,
silence or anything else.

The conversation initiates with a question about the
weather and Eliza’s response (“The shallow depression
in the west of these islands is likely to move slowly in an
easterly direction. There are no indications of any great
change in the barometrical situation” (III., lines.177-
200) indicates a drastic change in her speech style. Her
utterance is grammatical and linguistically complex in
comparison to her former utterances; “Ah-ah-ah-ow-
ow-ow-oo” (I., lines.235). Moreover, other interlocutors
address Eliza with polite sentences and attend her face.
Mrs. Eynsford Hill, for instance, redresses her question
with using words like ’surely’, or using a negative form
of question: “You surely don’t believe that your aunt was

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150Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture 151

killed?” (III., lines.197. Italics added), or in another turn,
in addition to negative form of question, Mrs. Eynsford
Hill mitigates her speech with using modal auxiliaries
like ‘can’t’, and ‘might’, and the word ’spirits’ instead of
‘gin’: “But it can’t have been right for your father to pour
spirits down her throat like that. It might have killed her”
(III., lines.199-200. Italics added). During this party Eliza
has her longest turns from the dawn of the play. Act III
is the beginning of Eliza’s empowerment, which reaches
towards extremes in the last two acts. However, according
to Mrs. Higgins, Eliza is not presentable at a garden party
because she is a fake lady, whose dress and pronunciation
are like ladies. Therefore, this examination suggests that
Eliza’s essence and state of mind are not changed still,
and there is the possibility of spoiling herself by every
sentence she utters.

As the play proceeds, the interdependent relation
between education discourse and other discourses
like class and marriage is revealed. It is shown that
acculturation and language retraining give Eliza a better
chance for marriage. Higgins says “By George, Eliza, the
streets will be strewn with the bodies of men shooting
themselves for your sake before I’ve done with you”
(II., lines.195-6). He also predicts that Eliza could marry

on the social ladder for her. Higher education secures a
better financial condition, and provides better chances
for marriage. Higgins predicts a plenteous life of luxury,
chocolates, taxis, gold, and diamonds for Eliza. The
question arising here is: Can Eliza enjoy such a life or

According to Foucault in all forms of power relations,
the two agents are in an unequal stand of intercourse. For
example, in the case of surveillance, the observed has
no power to observe the observer hence the knowledge
is produced by the observer about the observed. In the
case of normalizing judgment also only one person can
judge the other one (as cited in McHoul and Grace, 2002,
pp.70-1). But this is not wholly true in Pygmalion. To the
surprise of the reader, in addition to Eliza, Higgins is also

the play continues, it is revealed that Higgins’s terrible
behavior and commanding language do not set a good
example for Eliza. His language is full of dos and don’ts
which dictate his guidelines and limit Eliza’s freedom of
choice. Mrs. Pearce reminds him not to swear and damn
too much in front of Eliza (“You swear a great deal too
much. I don’t mind your damning and blasting, and what
the devil and where the devil and who the devil!” (II.,
lines.332-3)), a language improper for a garden party.
Moreover, he must not go to breakfast in dressing-gown
or use it as a napkin. Eliza’s second self, also, gradually
takes form by linguistic lessons and cultural training. She
is taken to Shakespeare exhibition and classical concerts,
learns to play the piano and listens to Beethoven and
Brahms. Eliza masters the cultural codes of the upper

class which gives her power, but, ironically, disclasses her

Act IV is the initiation of Eliza’s self-consciousness.
The pattern of turn distribution in the interaction between
Eliza and Higgins, taking place after the garden party
and the end of Higgins’s experiment, shows that the turn
alternates between Eliza and Higgins and each have their
own say. Before the interaction begins, Eliza throws
Higgins’s slippers at him. They converse about what is
to become of Eliza. Eliza claims that Higgins’s success
depended on her, but he rejects it. In her next turn, Eliza
says that she thinks of Higgins as the cause of her present
misery. Before this process of acculturation, she could
sell flowers on the street, while now she belongs to
neither her own class nor to Higgins’s; she feels that she
is dangling, ‘out of place’. At the dawn of the project, she
only thought of learning a genteel language, but now she
has no place among upper-class people, neither can she
return to the gutter. Now she is a good-for-nothing lady
and cannot enjoy the life that Higgins predicted; she feels

This interaction signals that it is the first time that
Higgins listens to what Eliza says and that it is Higgins’s
speech which is a harsh reaction to Eliza’s speech acts,
not vice versa. Eliza’s self-consciousness and linguistic
competence are the sources of her power. Despite this,
Higgins still tries to dominate Eliza verbally by calling her
‘presumptuous insect’, ‘the creature’, ‘cat’, etc. He also
commands her to sit down and to be quiet and explicitly
expresses his apparent indifference to Eliza’s future by
saying “How the devil do I know what’s to become of
you? What does it matter what becomes of you?” (IV.,
lines.96-7). Higgins suggests that Eliza might marry or

Most of the conversation in Act IV occurs between
Eliza and Higgins which indicates that Eliza’s self

in Act IV Eliza does not attend to Higgins’s order and
tells him that she is not going to tell Mrs. Pearce about the
coffee. Higgins confesses that Eliza has wounded him,
and the act ends with Eliza’s smile and triumphant feeling.

runs away, and Higgins remarks that he cannot continue
without her. Consider the following extract in which Eliza
says she owes Pickering too much for her progress:

It’s not because you paid for my dresses. I know you are
generous to everybody with money. But it was from you that I
learnt really nice manners; and that is what makes one a lady,

of Professor Higgins always before me. I was brought up to be
just like him, unable to control myself, and using bad language
on the slightest provocation. And I should never have known
that ladies and gentlemen didn’t behave like that if you hadn’t
been there. (V., lines.235-40)

During this conversation Eliza is the central speaker and

more than Higgins does, and her turns are lengthy. Pace

Discourse and Power in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion

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150 151 Copyright © Canadian Academy of Oriental and Occidental Culture

Foucault’s claim about the lowers’ inability to criticize
the uppers in a power relation, Eliza has gained a gift of
articulating her critical opinion about Higgins and his
education system. Higgins’s deficiency arises from the
fact that he teaches only pronunciation to Eliza and is

about her worth. During the last conversation with Eliza,
Higgins professes that he took Eliza for the fun of it and
will not change his behavior even if she returns. Eliza
answers back that she is no longer afraid of Higgins’s big
talk and bullying manner and that he cannot take away
Eliza’s knowledge and power. She decides to regain her
independence by leaving Higgins. In the end, Higgins
expresses his happiness about Eliza’s strength: “By
George, Eliza, I said I’d make a woman of you; and I
have. I like you like this” (V., lines.509-10). When Eliza
leaves Higgins alone on the scene, rattling his cash in his
pocket, Eliza’s process of learning and empowerment is

Pygmalion is a critique of the education system of the
time represented by Higgins. Shaw believes that education
should create productive and humane citizens instead
of “household pets or chattel slaves” (Griffith, 1993,
p.149). That is, teaching at schools should not be limited
to routine curriculums; students should be educated
about noble manners and cultural practices. To use Pierre
Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (“a system of durable
dispositions” (Ihlen, 2009, p.65)), Higgins, apart from his

and gestures while Pickering does. He torments Eliza by
his bitter language and by treating her as a servant (making
her fetch things). He does not care about anybody’s
character and ill-treats all around him. In contrast to him,
Pickering is a better teacher, one who teaches Eliza noble
manners and gives her a sense of self-respect by treating
her like a lady (calling her ‘Miss Doolittle’, for instance).
Eliza likens herself to a child, in the foreign country of
upper-class people, who has mastered a new tongue and
cultural codes, and has forgotten her own language. The
crucial point is that though Eliza gains power, Higgins
is still superior because of his sex and class. With this
linguistic knowledge Eliza only learns how to play the
game of power.

Drawing on discourse theories we tried to shed
light on the intersection of linguistic and Foucauldian
conceptions of discourse in Shaw’s Pygmalion. Focusing
on the modality of power relations in the play, we
attempted to show how education and class discourses
are mutually related – Eliza has been deprived of going
to school because of her working-class family. Higgins’s
disciplinary power individualizes Eliza and fashions a
new self for her. Despite Higgins’s attempt to keep Eliza
submitted, after experiencing subjection to power, Eliza
herself becomes the exerciser of power. This turns her into
a new social subject who like other humans welcomes an
unpredictable life, now bestowing pleasure, now striking

with sorrow. In the end, as we tried to demonstrate, there
is a latent network of discourses and power relations in
Pygmalion which replenishes it with different layers of
meaning, turning it into a work which is far from what
Christopher Booker simply calls a ‘fairy tale’ with Rags
to Riches plot in which a humble flower girl meets a
phonetician who promises to change her into a princess,
accompanied by marriage and everlasting joy and felicity
(2004, p.375).

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Foucault, M. (1972). Archaeology of Knowledge (A. M. Sheridan
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Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews
and Other Writing 1972-1977. C. Gordon (Ed.), New York:
Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Gassner, J. (1970). Bernard Shaw and the Making of the
Modern Mind. In Warren, S. S. (Ed.), Bernard Shaw’s Plays
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Herman,V. (1995). Dramatic Discourse: Dialogue as Interaction
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Ihlen, A. (2009). On Bourdieu: Public Relations in Field
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Hossein Pirnajmuddin; Fatemeh Shahpoori Arani (2011).
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