"Pygmalion" is one of B. Shaw's best comedies and one of my favourite ones.
The principal characters of the play are Eliza Doolitle and Henry Higgins. Eliza, a girl of eighteen, makes her living by selling flowers in the streets of London. She comes from the lowest social strata and speaks with a strong Cockney accent, which is considered to be the most uncultured English.
Bernard Shaw knew the common fate of those who were born in poverty. The Cockney English spoken in the East End of London was like a brand on a person's reputation. People would not be taken on to work at a respectable place; yet no one taught people free of charge, the common people had no chance to learn.
Henry Higgins is a professor of phonetics. One day in the street, he says to his friend Colonel Pickering that he could pass off Eliza as a duchess. Eliza hears this conversation and the next day she goes straight to the professor's house and insists on being taught. Higgins bets Pickering that he will pass her off as a duchess in six months.
The character of Eliza shows how much strength and talent lies undeveloped inside the common people. Eliza is a precious material for a new creation. The play reveals how Eliza struggles to rise to a higher cultural level.
Higgins does his best at the girl's manners and pronunciation, and finally, before six months are over, she is well prepared to be introduced into a society. Higgins and Pickering take her to the party and the opera. Everything goes well. Higgins wins his bet.
But what is to become of Eliza when the game is over? She knows that the professor is sure to take up some new work in the morning and forget about her. She cannot go back to selling flowers in the street. She has acquired some knowledge, and she wants to do useful work. She wants independence and her share of human kindness. Higgins understands the way she feels. He even feels guilty.
Higgins and Eliza remain friends, but the play is without ending. Shaw, the realist, saw that in England of his days there would be nothing for Eliza to do except to open a flower shop and to marry Freddy Eynsford who had been in love with her.