Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pretty woman is an appropriation of Pygmalion

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Pretty Woman is an appropriation of the play by Bernard Shaw called Pygmalion, because it’s characters, plot and central theme can all be closely linked. Both Vivian Ward’s and Eliza Doolittle’s transformation into society’s ‘ideal women’ undertakes the same central journey, with pivotal moments in character development similar to each other. Both women come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and through the help of their male counterparts, in the text, achieve confidence and self worth. Through the women’s evolution of self, the narrative also enables the reader to see the society in which the characters are constructed, and how through the female’s transformation society’s attitudes towards the women are revealed. At their introduction into the texts, Edward Lewis and Henry Higgins both have no intention of ‘letting a woman into their life’ but the major difference in the two texts is the transformation of the men’s opinions. While Vivian’s influence on Edward reaps a positive effect on his character, Higgins steadfastly retains his obstinate and stubborn nature.


Both Professor Higgins and Edward Lewis come from affluent and high-ranking social classes, where respect and power is earned through their education and high socio-economic status. In the first scene in Pygmalion, Professor Higgins is surrounded by all social classes as he observes their speech outside Convent Garden. As he begins to interact with the people in his surroundings, they are able to tell he is a gentleman, as the bystander notes ‘he’s a gentleman, look at his boots’. Not only does this statement confirm Higgins’ status in the social hierarchy but also portrays the message that in this realm, a person’s dress is used as an indicator of their position in society. Higgins himself, as Professor of Phonetics, is successful at his occupation, this being deduced as he says to Pickering when questioned about whether his employment earns him a living, ‘Oh yes, quite a fat one.’ He further elaborates by describing why his profession is so fruitful ‘This is an age of upstarts. Men begin in Kentish Town with 80 pounds a year, and end in Park Lane with a hundred thousand. They want to drop Kentish Town; but they give themselves away every time they open their mouths’.


Edward Lewis, moreover, is introduced in the text Pretty Woman, as a successful asset stripper who ‘buys companies and sells off the pieces’. Edward’s social status is displayed by his ability to reside in the exclusive Regent Beverly Wiltshire Hotel. Through its luxurious setting, the Hotel depicts the notion that its residents would be very wealthy. Edward has been highly educated which is disclosed when Vivian and Edward discuss their schooling years, Edward tells Vivian he ‘went all the way’, indicating he had extensive education, especially in comparison to Vivian. Edward must have had a privileged childhood as his ‘first car was a limousine’ and his money earns him respect and power with his peers, such as Phillip Stuckey who says ‘I have pledged my life to you’. As Edward notes the influence of wealth when taking Vivian shopping, ‘stores aren’t nice to people, they’re nice to credit cards’. Edward earns Vivian the reverence of the store managers by telling them that he was going ‘to spend an obscene amount of money, so we are going to need a lot more help sucking up to us’.


In comparison, Eliza and Vivian come from poorer, almost poverty-stricken backgrounds, both selling their wares in order to eke out a living. Eliza sells flowers in order to make money but she is not very successful at her occupation, ingratiating herself to passersby at Convent Garden. She is not ‘a romantic figure’ but this is probably a product of her poverty as Eliza’s features are ‘no worse’ than the other ladies at Convent Garden but is ‘very dirty’ in comparison to them. Her appearance and clothes are unkempt as her ‘little sailor hat of black straw’ had ‘long been exposed to the soot of London’ and ‘her hair needed washing badly’. This portrays her as having very little wealth and a low socio-economic status as she is not able to dress like or look like a lady.


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Vivian’s apparel also conveys her social standing and to a greater extent her profession as a prostitute. On Hollywood Boulevarde, where she sells her ‘wares’, Vivian fits in with the other ‘working girls’ with her revealing clothes, heavy make-up and her ‘boots held up by a safety pin’. She keeps her boots black by using a black permanent marker to erase any wear and tear on them, instead of, perhaps, buying a new pair. Vivian though, we know, is not wealthy. She cannot afford to pay her rent money for her small, run down, apartment and prefers to escape seeing her landlord by using the fire escape ladder. As she searches for her room-mate Kit, on Hollywood Boulevard, the viewer can see that the area is accustomed to prostitutes, drug-dealers and, as Vivian happens to stumble on, dead bodies.


As she later relates the discovery of seeing ‘a girl pulled out of a dumpster’ to Kit, she asks afterwards ‘Don’t you want to get out of here?’, obviously indicating that she dreams of a better life for herself. This aspiration is also shared by Eliza, for even before contemplating the idea to visit Professor Higgins for elocution lessons to become a flower-girl, she returns home to her squalid lodgings, ‘dreaming and planning’ what to do with her ‘new riches’ to better her life. Pinned up on the wall of Eliza’s small room is a portrait of a popular actor and a fashion plate of ladies dresses torn from newspapers, an example of Eliza wanting articles to aspire for to decorate her life.


Henry and Edward share the same viewpoint of women’s positioning in their life. Both have had bad experiences towards women, with the former having an almost misogynistic viewpoint of the ‘fairer sex’. Edward has had troubled relationships, what with having an ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend. In the first scene of Pretty Woman, we see Edward in a telephone conversation with his girlfriend Jessica, who accuses him of only wanting her at his ‘beck and call’ and that due to this, she speaks more to his secretary than to him. She ends the conversation by informing him that she will move out of their apartment, thus terminating their relationship. Later, as Edward bumps into one of his ex-girlfriends, congratulating her on getting married lately, he asks her whether she spoke to his secretary more than she spoke to him during their relationship; she replies, referring to Edward’s secretary, ‘she was my bridesmaid’. Due to Edward’s troubled relationships, we can deduce that he would be wary of involvement with a woman. Further evidence is supplied when he ‘hires’ Vivian to be his ‘employee’ for the week, she responds with ‘I’d love to be your Beck and Call Girl but you’re a rich good looking guy, you could get a million girls for free’. Edward refutes ‘I don’t want any romantic hassles this week’. Edward later admits that he doesn’t get emotionally involved in business; so his relationship with Vivian is seen in his eyes to be a purely business-like partnership. This argument is further strengthened by his conversation with Vivian when she tells him ‘Baby, I’m gonna treat you so good, you’ll never let me go’. Edward coolly remarks ‘Three thousand, six days, and Vivian, I will let you go’. His response indicates that he sees Vivian as an object to use in the social settings when he needs her, not as a human being with emotions that may affect him, forcing a commitment. Higgins also doesn’t want to become emotionally involved with a woman as he finds that ‘the moment I let myself make friends with a woman, I become selfish and tyrannical’. Higgins is comfortable as a ‘confirmed, old bachelor’ and the presence of a woman would ‘upset everything’, so he would also prefer to have no romantic hassles in his life either.


The introduction of Eliza into his life does not faze Henry Higgins though, as he sees Eliza as a bet to be won rather than a woman with emotions that can get hurt. When asked by Mrs. Pearce what is to become of Eliza once the experiment is accomplished, Higgins replies, ‘Well, when I’ve done with her, we can throw her back into the gutter; and then it will be her own business again; so that’s alright’. Both men see Eliza and Vivian respectively as tools for their personal utility with no thought to what is to become of them after their usefulness has expired. The financial exchange for their services seems to justify this notion that this is a business affiliation, as Higgins says after Eliza runs away, ‘I paid five pounds for her’.That idea is also put into effect for, Edward expects Vivian to be waiting for him in the lobby for their dinner with Morse and not to pick her up from her room, because ‘this isn’t a date, it’s business’. Vivian retorts ‘ Well I’ll meet you in the lobby but only because you’re paying me to’.


Edward and Henry’s temperament is similar though, and the women both handle the situations the same way demanding respect from their supposed superiors. Vivian and Edward quarrel after she is propositioned by Edward’s friend and business partner, Phillip Stuckey, and during Vivian accuses Edward of treating her like a toy to be passed around by his friends. She tells him ‘you’re not my pimp…. You don’t own me. I say who, I say when’. Vivian likes to be in control of her life and won’t be subjected to the indignity of being treated like a lower human being , she only agrees to stay with Edward once he apologises for what he had said.


Eliza also asserts herself against Higgins accusations against her character by saying ‘I’m a good girl, I am’. Despite her awareness of her inferior social status, she pertly reminds Higgins that if he were a gentleman he would ask her to sit down during their first meeting. Vivian asserts herself likewise when interrupted by Edward while singing in the bath, she questions him ‘Don’t you knock?’ Both women are not intimidated by their male superiors and are able to assert themselves when needed. This can be quite often as both male characters can be aloof and almost rude. Henry dismisses Eliza brusquely, ‘Why this is the girl I jotted down last night. She’s no use. Be off with you. I don’t want you’, after she arrives unexpectantly at his house. Edward also can be quite tactless, his revelation to Phillip Stuckey that Vivian is a ‘hooker’, causes her discomfort and pain because she does not welcome Phillips’ advances.


Before Edward’s revelation, no one at the polo match had suspected Vivian’s origin. Phillip Stuckey’s wife, Elizabeth, says to Edward, referring to Vivian; ‘She’s sweet, wherever did you find her?’. Edward replies ‘nine, seven, six BABE’. While Elizabeth smiles not realising the hidden meaning of Edward’s remark, Edward is jokingly making reference to his procurement of Vivian’s ‘friendship’ through less conventional means. Higgins also makes reference to Eliza’s humble origins when at the Embassy Ball. While the others in his company try to place her origin, Higgins jokingly remarks ‘I say an ordinary London girl out of the gutter and taught to speak by an expert. I place her in Drury Lane’. The others laugh at his suggestion, for everyone at the Embassy Ball has been impressed by Eliza, most suspecting she is of royal blood. Her entrance into the Ball caused everyone around her to ‘stop talking to look at her, admiring her dress, her jewels and her strangely attractive self’. Some of the younger ones at the Ball stood on chairs to see her. Vivian’s physical transformation also has the same effect of awe on the people around her. After returning home from shopping on Rodeo Drive, Vivian, now dressed sophisticatedly in stylish clothes, manages to attract admiring glances from men on the street and gain the attention of Barney, the hotel concierge, as she walks through the hotel.


Barney has watched Vivian throughout her metamorphoses, acting as a mentor when she needed help with social etiquette such as table manners and enabled her to be treated with respect, when purchasing a cocktail dress for dinner by introducing her to his friend, Bridget, who works in women’s fashion. Eliza also needs direction on social etiquette. Higgins points out to her, when giving her a handkerchief, that it is ‘to wipe your eyes. To wipe any part of your face that feels moist. Remember, that’s your handkerchief and that’s your sleeve. Don’t mistake the one for the other if you wish to become a lady in a shop’. Mrs. Pearce acts as a mentor as well, telling Eliza to have bath because ‘You can’t be a nice girl if you look like a dirty slut on the outside.’


The transformation from flower girl to lady was not easy, with Eliza sometimes showing her inadequacies in filling her new role, especially in her earliest conversations with Freddy Eynsford Hill. After discussing the weather quite comically, though unbeknownst to her, Freddy laughs and exclaims ‘How awfully funny….The new small talk. You do it so awfully well!’. While Eliza’s remarks are not suitable for her present company, they endear people towards her due to her naivety. Freddy is still impressed by Miss Doolittle for, after Mrs. Higgins asks Freddy if he would like to see Miss Doolittle again, he replies ‘Yes, I should most awfully!’. The same situation occurs with Vivian also. During her dinner with the Morses, her inability to use appropriate cutlery and to eat escargot, raises quite a few laughs and eases the tension between Edward and his adversaries.


A major presence in both texts is the women’s economic vulnerability and financial dependence on men. As Eliza questions her future, Higgins represents the typical middle class view that women expect to marry in saying, ‘I should imagine you wont have much difficulty in settling yourself somewhere or other….. I daresay my mother could find some chap or other who would do very well’. Eliza interprets his comment as ‘selling herself’ now that she is attractive. ‘We were above that at the corner of Tottenham Court Road…I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself’. Even though Eliza finds herself in tenuous circumstances, she still aspires for something better in her life now that she has undergone her transformation. Vivian too comes to this realisation. After Edward offers her a life of luxury and financial security, she rejects his offer saying ‘You made me a really nice offer and a few months ago, no problem, but now everything is different, you changed that and I can’t go back’. Vivian knows she had gained confidence and self-worth after her week with Edward, realising she cannot go back to her old life of financial dependence on men, and decides she would not settle for a relationship that did not meet her ideal; ‘I want the fairytale’ Vivian and Eliza both aspire to greater things after their metamorphoses, the former returning to school and the latter deciding to try teaching phonetics.


Edward and Henry both treat the women’s newfound independence similarly. Edward and Henry still do not see Vivian and Eliza, respectively, as human beings, capable of emotions that do not mirror their own. Edward does not consider the fact that Vivian might not want to be financially supported by him for, after saying his money would keep her off the streets, she reacts ‘That’s just geography’. He expects Vivian to continue on with their lifestyle of the past week even though she wishes for something more. This statement is also true of Higgins and Eliza. Eliza questions Higgins about the future ‘What am I fit for? What have you left me to? Where am I to go? What am I to do? What’s to become of me?’. Higgins dismisses her paranoia, ‘How the devil do I know what’s to become of you? What does it matter what becomes of you? Higgins, like Edward, does not consider Eliza’s emotional state due to the fragility of her circumstances and just expects her to carry on as he is accustomed to, keeping track of his appointments and telling Mrs. Pearce how he likes his coffee. Eliza’s struggle for independence from the constraints of the accepted medium occurs before our eyes, for her last words in Act III to Higgins are ‘You’d better leave a note for Mrs. Pearce about the coffee; for she won’t hear it from me!’. Eliza no longer needs to be told what to say or to recite lines, she can assert herself and form opinions. By Act IV, a social poise and logical mind are added to her beauty and perfect accent and the emphasis is now on Eliza’s emotional being rather than simply being an experiment.


While Pretty Woman is an appropriation of Pygmalion, the difference in the texts is the ending. While in Pygmalion, Eliza refuses to adhere to Higgins’ proposal to return to his home to continue living with him and Pickering, Vivian and Edward’s tale has a far more happier ending. After Vivian returns home to her modest apartment, preparing herself for a new and better life in San Francisco, Edward surprises her by arriving at her home in a limousine with a bouquet of flowers. He climbs on the fire escape to the top of Vivian’s apartment block, even though he has mentioned before his great fear of heights, to ‘rescue her’ like she wanted in her fairytale that she had mentioned before. Edward asks her ‘what happens after the prince in her fairytale climbed to the top of the tower and rescued her?’. Vivian replies ‘she rescues him right back’. This shows that while Edward’s influence on Vivian positively changed her, she too changed him, making him capable of her love. Higgins, though finding Eliza’s company agreeable and herself attractive, still does not change his character to oblige Eliza’s feelings. He stubbornly tells Eliza ‘ if you come back, I shall treat you as I always have treated you. I can’t change my nature’. Edward, however, does change through his company with Vivian. As Vivian’s nature begins to emerge because of her outer transformation, she begins to transform him emotionally, now being capable of loving her and building relationships, both in business, such as with James Morse, as well as in his personal life.


The closing shot of the film is a pull-back from the couple kissing to a young black man who parades Hollywood Boulevarde preaching, ‘What’s your dream? Everybody who comes to Hollywood’s got a dream!’ It seems that Vivian has finally achieved her dream and obtained the prince who rescues her from her troubled world.


The prevailing theme throughout both Pygmalion and Pretty Woman is the treatment of the higher classes to their social inferiors. Eliza and Vivian receive little respect from people of upper classes and are looked down upon. Though once they have undergone their physical transformation, they receive admiration and attention that they would never have gained before. Both texts show the superficiality of aristocracy and how easily, through imitation of wealth and breeding, one can join the elite classes that once judged them before.


Before being ‘sculpted’ into the ‘perfect’ woman, both Vivian and Eliza were treated harshly by people who thought themselves socially superior. Vivian’s expedition to the exclusive stores on Rodeo Drive, ends in her feeling degraded by the shop assistants’ refusals to wait on her. Eliza also is treated as a lower being by Professor Higgins when he first meets her, describing her as a ‘squashed cabbage leaf!’ However, after their metamorphosis, both women are admired for their beauty, as mentioned before, and treated as ladies. The contrast of the treatment of the women, before and after their transformation, shows that society would only admire and respect women who adhered to the feminine ideal of the time. While Higgins was convinced that it was a person’s speech that indicated their social class, and positioned them, Bernard Shaw seems to have a bigger viewpoint of the social hierarchy. He was attacking the preconceived notion that people assumed that the upper classes were superior essentially due to the lower classes being lazy and naturally inferior .By enabling Eliza to be mistaken for a princess through her diction, fine apparel and social moulding of Higgins and Pickering, Shaw was satirising the superior attitudes of the upper classes by showing that someone ‘inferior’ could be up to their standard.


Vivian, as well, shows the inadequacies and flaws of the social structure of modern day society. Her revenge on the shop assistants who had shunned her and were now polite and courteous towards her, proves that even in 10’s America, a person’s worth and wealth was perceived by the way they dressed. After Kit sees Vivian after her transformation, she remarks ‘ You clean up real good. You wouldn’t fit in at Boulevarde looking like you do.’ Vivian retorts ‘ It’s easy to clean up when you have money’. From this comment, we can deduce that all that a person needs to acquire a higher social status is money. Both texts show that the measure to judge somebody’s wealth is a purely superficial one, and that an individual’s character should be the real defining point. While both have the same prevailing theme, Pygmalion seems to be more highly critical of the social structure with its main purpose trying and satirise what Shaw thought were the inadequacies of society, and Pretty Woman’s principle concern is to entertain the audience with romantic fiction, not to educate.


Pretty Woman is an appropriation of Pygmalion, but while it borrows many central plot and theme ideas, the two texts have a different purpose for their audience. As the plot develops, so do the characters in each text. Both Eliza and Vivian begin at the start of the ‘journey’ in poverty, with no direction on how to change their life. The entrance of the male characters into the story begins the transformation of the two characters, ending with them both being able to assert themselves, demanding self respect from the their former ‘superior’ male counterparts. While the women both evolve, the effect on the men is different than the female characters. Edward welcomes the change in his character, allowing Vivian to influence his personal and professional life. Henry, however , is resistant to change and this is the major difference in the appropriation of character development from Pygmalion to Pretty Woman. The main purpose of the play Pygmalion, was, for its writer Bernard Shaw, an opportunity to satirise what he thought was wrong with the society that he lived in at the turn of the century. While Pretty Woman does contain the same themes, the purpose of the film was to be a modern day fairytale, and its happy ever after ending was to satisfy today’s film going public, not to provide them with an insight into the constructs and failures of the society in which they live in.





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