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Equality and Social Class in Pygmalion

Equality and Social Class in Pygmalion

The idea of ranking individuals based upon their wealth and behaviors has endured through all cultures, countries, and times. George Benard Shaw’s Pygmalion addresses an individual’s capability to advance through society, an idea as old as social distinction. Shaw does so through the social parable of a young English flower girl named Eliza Dolittle, who after receiving linguistic training assumes the role of a duchess. She receives instruction, as a bet, by a self-absorbed language professor named Henry Higgens. However, Eliza does not take her social ascension alone, as she is joined by her drunken father Alfred P. Dolittle. The manner in which they rise from poverty demonstrates their equality as humans. As illustrated through Shaw’s Pygmalion, the innate equality of individuals necessitates their ability to rise from their social class.

An individual’s humanity necessitates social equality. The shared human experience imposes innate equality. A person’s equality or often inequality in a social setting is often “extrinsic and subjective” (Mugglestone 379). Also, Shaw uses Eliza’s character and feeling of self worth to demonstrate the distinctions between the “undeniable facts of innate equality, and the social… fallacies” that prevent its recognition (Mugglestone 377). The rebirth of Eliza from a flower girl to a lady implies that the trivial issue as an accent is the main distinction between classes (Tindall 44). Social constraints prove ineffective at diminishing an inner sense of equality. Eliza, refusing to recognize the demeaning social expectations imposed upon her class, rebukes Higgens rudeness with the declaration of equality “,I’ve a right to b…

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…e Art and Mind of Shaw. New York: St. Martin’s, 1983.

Goldberg, Michael. “Shaw’s Pygmalion: The Reworking of Great Expectations.” The Shaw Review 22 (1979): 114-22.

Lerner, Alan Jay. “Pygmalion and My Fair Lady.” The Shaw Review 1.10 (1951-56): 4-7.

Lorichs, Sonja. The Unwomanly Woman in Bernard Shaw’s Drama and Her Social and Political Background. Rotobeckman, Stockholm: UPPSALA, 1973.

Mugglestone, Lynda. “Shaw, Subjective Inequality, and the Social Meanings of Language in Pygmalion.” Review of English Studies 44.175 (1993): 373-85.

Reynolds, Jean. Pygmalion’s Wordplay: The Postmodern Shaw. Tampa: UP of Florida, 1999.

Shaw, George Bernard. Pygmalion. New York: Washington Square P, 1916.

Tindall, William York. Forces in Modern British Literature. London: Knopf, 1947. Mills, John A. Language and Laughter. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1969.

Essay on Relationship between Art and Life in Death in Venice

Relationship between Art and Life Explored in Death in Venice

The novella Death in Venice by Thomas Mann examines the nature of the relationship between art and life. The progression of the main character, Gustave Von Aschenbach, illustrates the concept of an Apollinian/Dionysian continuum. Apollo is the Greek god of art, thus something Apollinian places an emphasis on form. Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and chaos, hence something Dionysian emphasizes energy and emotion. In The Birth of Tragedy Friedrich Nietzsche suggests that,”… the continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and Dionysian duality–just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations.. in the Greek world there existed a tremendous opposition, in origin and aims, between the Apollinian area of sculpture, and the nonimagistic, Dionysian art of music “(33). The Greeks embodied this concept in the “clear figures of their gods” just as Thomas Mann, a great reader of Nietzsche, embodied it in his characters (33).

At the beginning of the novel, Gustave is depicted as an extremely, if not overly, civilized man. He is an artist, but he approaches art coldly and rigidly. It is more a job than a joy for him, and it is actually his urge to seek “flight from his rigid, cold, and passionate service” that brings him to Venice (Mann 6). Although Gustave loves this service, he is currently in a state of frustration: “To him it seemed that his work had ceased to be marked by that fiery play of fancy that is the product of joy…” (7). His beliefs can be summarized in the words “mind and art,” thus missing the crucial ingredients of life and sensuality. Gu…

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… painting Figures on Rocks at the Edge of the Sea. Life is found to be problematic if lived at either extreme, a midpoint of some type must be established. A dynamic state of oscillation, the best environment for the cultivation of creativity, would have prevented Gustave’s uncontrollable exhibition of previously inhibited Dionysian qualities. The ideal state for the production of art and living in general seems to be a mixture of art, mind, and life.

Works Cited

Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice and Other Stories. New York: Random House, Inc., 1989.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. 1872. In The Birth of Tragedy and The Case

of Wagner. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.

Vibert, Jean-Georges. Figures on Rocks at the Edge of the Sea. Snite Museum of Art, Notre Dame, Indiana.

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