Teaching Students About Henry Higgins
Henry Higgins, the protagonist of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, is an intriguing character that has captured the imagination of countless individuals since the play’s first production in 1913. He is a fascinating study of a man who is flawed yet brilliant, rude yet loveable, and impulsive yet calculating. Teaching students about Henry Higgins can be an enlightening experience that not only enhances their enjoyment of literature but also helps them understand complex human behavior.
At its core, Pygmalion is a play about the transformative power of education. Higgins, a phonetics expert, is tasked with teaching Eliza Doolittle, a Cockney flower girl, how to speak proper English. His initial motivation is not to better her life but rather to win a bet with his colleague, Colonel Pickering. However, as the play progresses, Higgins begins to take a genuine interest in Eliza and cares for her beyond his initial intentions.
One of the essential facets of Henry Higgins’ personality is his arrogance. He believes himself to be superior to others, both in intellect and social status. While his expertise in linguistics is undeniable, his interpersonal skills leave much to be desired. He has a contentious relationship with his mother and is often dismissive and condescending towards Eliza, despite her significant progress under his tutelage. Teaching students about this aspect of his character can lead to discussions about the importance of empathy, the importance of recognizing one’s limitations, and the pitfalls of arrogance.
While showing facets of his personality, it is essential to understand the impact Henry Higgins has on the people around him. His rudeness and callousness cause significant harm, especially to the women in his life. Teaching students about this can lead to discussions around the importance of treating others with respect, particularly in teacher-student relationships, and the significance of acknowledging the harm one can cause with their words and actions.
Despite his flaws, Henry Higgins is an intriguing and dynamic literary character that can provide students with valuable lessons in human behavior and relationships. By teaching students about his character arc, his impact on those around him, and his relationship with Eliza, educators can use Pygmalion as a gateway to discussions about empathy, humility, and respect.