Students must read the novel Pygmalion and My Fair Lady and write an essay on one of six topics. Select one of the following topics:
Henry Higgins, the leading man in Pygmalion and My Fair Lady,
may be considered an anti-hero, a character who acts in ways contrary
to conventional literary representations of heroism. What qualities mark
him as an anti-hero?
When Eliza threatens to leave Henry in Act 5 of Pygmalion, Henry
defends himself, saying, “I care for life, for humanity….What more can
you or anyone ask?” In light of Henry’s behavior throughout the play,
does this self-justification seem satisfactory? What are the pitfalls of
caring for life and humanity in general, as Henry does, but neglecting
to consider the needs of individuals?
At the end of Pygmalion, Henry is amused when Eliza goes off to marry Freddy. In My Fair Lady,
Eliza returns in a scene that suggests she and Henry have a future
together. Given your understanding of Eliza and Henry, do you think one
ending fits better than the other? Would it work to switch
conclusions—end Pygmalion with Eliza’s return and My Fair Lady with Eliza’s departure? Why or why not? What changes did Lerner make to Shaw’s play to make his new ending plausible?
At the beginning of Pygmalion, we are introduced to Alfred
Doolittle, Eliza’s father. Alfred reappears—surprisingly, almost as an
afterthought—toward the conclusion of the play. In My Fair Lady,
by contrast, his role is greatly expanded in additional scenes and
songs. How do these additions affect your view of Alfred’s character and
his life philosophy?
Both plays poke fun at the middle class, most notably its emphasis on
proper speech and appearance. In what other ways does the play satirize
middle class values? What middle class preoccupations and interests are
undermined? Do you believe members of the middle class today share
attitudes illustrated in the plays? Use examples to illustrate your
In Act 5 of Pygmalion and almost verbatim in Act 2, Scene 5 of My Fair Lady,
Eliza claims Col. Pickering showed her how to act like a lady by
behaving well himself: “I shall always be a flower girl to Professor
Higgins because he always treats me like a flower girl, and always will;
but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a
lady, and always will.” Do you agree with Eliza’s assessment of Col.
Pickering as a true gentleman? Illustrate your answer with references to
his behavior throughout the play.
Eligibility: Grades 11 and 12
Length: Minimum of two, but no more than three, double-spaced pages
Submission must be typed
Submission must be the original work of the student.