Pygmalion – Language, Identity and Culture

A sunny, yet bone dry day was our welcome from the Peel Valley ETA and the resumption of their HSC English Study Day. Held at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School, every text studied by students in the surrounding schools was catered for – a mammoth task – with presentations from experienced teachers and HSC markers.

Here are slides and notes from my Pygmalion presentation for Module A: Language, Identity and Culture.

The focus of this presentation is to suggest ways that students may improve their response writing and (hopefully) increase their marks. Think of making changes as a way of opening up the possibility to move into the next grade: from D 5-8 into C 9-12 then B 13-16 or even into A 17-20.

Knowing the key module points, or rubric expectations, means there should be no surprises when it comes to the question you are asked to respond to in the HSC.

Including metalanguage, the words and terms specific to English as a subject or discipline, will immediately lift the tone of your response. Your response must reference Shaw as he is the person who created these characters, but you could refer to him as the author, creator, playwright, script writer or even writer. These synonyms allow your writing to appear fresh rather than repetitive (if you use the same term eg. playwright throughout).

Why not include references to the context, audience and purpose of Pygmalion? This could be done in the introduction, or embedded within a the ‘nuts and bolts’ paragraph that is typically written straight after the introduction and lets the marker know that you have deep knowledge about the text.

The reference to temperance in the above slide concerns the popular ‘pledge’ to avoid alcohol, taken by many in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as a way of combating the loose morals associated with public drunkeness.

It’s worth considering a sentence or two on the different audiences – past and present – and the shift in attitude towards your chosen concepts. The examples used in this presentation are identities of class and gender and it may be successfully argued that there has been a shift from a more rigid social hierarchy, as well as equality between the sexes, in more recent times.

Always include details about the important structural metalanguage so the marker clearly understands your knowledge of the text. You might also refer to to Act 1 as the opening scene, set in Covent Garden, or Act 4 as the confrontational climax between Eliza and Higgins.

Sadly, some students will mistakenly refer to Pygmalion as a story or book. A sentence about the title, perhaps in your introduction, will allow you to discuss a central concern of the play – Higgin’s objectified and idealistic perspective of Eliza that does not include an understanding of her worth as a human being. Remember, the actual title is Pygmalion: A Romance in Five Acts as a way of discussing genre.

Setting is an important textual component of every text. Make sure your use of this term includes details that support your argument: the home of Henry Higgins, as described in Shaw’s stage directions, is opulent with scientific equipment that supports his social status; Mrs Higgin’s sitting room is daintily decorated, a typical lady’s space for women of her class.

Remember that the characters are initially introduced by their role, function or occupation: The Flower Girl (Eliza), The Gentleman (Colonel Pickering) and The Note Taker (Professor Henry Higgins). Each is then given an identity after the bet is made between Pickering and Higgins.

However, an audience watching a performance would not be aware of this, so it might be worth discussing Shaw’s intrusive and detailed stage directions. This is evidence of his control over how a performance should be delivered, and the male dominant voice of his cultural context.

It’s worth considering that Higgin’s project is flawed: he lacks insight into the emotional damage he causes. Consider the final line of Shaw’s preface:

Imitation will only make them ridiculous.

Here he is referring to the idea of ambitious flower girls attempting to enter a higher class by speaking differently. This is not a convincing approach without hours of dedicated practice. Therefore, rather than a blueprint for social advancement, Shaw’s script challenges our assumptions about the value of an homogenous society, and the possible repercussions of conformity to cultural expectations.

My suggested essay structure is necessarily brief (due to time constraints). Typically, you would have more than one body paragraph for each concept – please consider this as an overview.



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