Gender opinions play a role in how the differences, positions of power, and experiences between men and women are portrayed. Examining Henry Higgins from Pygmalion gives insight into how men take women for granted. Multiple times throughout the play, Higgins’ exhibits ignorance when it comes to women such as Eliza. When Higgins says something mean to Eliza, Colonel Pickerning remarks, “Does it occur to you, Higgins, that the girl has some feelings? ” Demonstrating his obliviousness, Higgins responds, “Oh no, I don’t think so. Not any feelings that we need bother about…” (Shaw 18).
Higgins’ opinion of women can be found in his treatment of Eliza. He has called her derogatory names such as “damned impudent slut” and “fool” countless times as the story progressed. In contrast, Higgins’ mother is the exact opposite of ignorant. Since her introduction, she is shown to be much more perceptive about how people are feeling. When ignorant Higgins fails to understand why Eliza is mad at him near the end of the play, it falls to his mother, a woman, to explain it all to him, despite the fact that it is easily discernable to the common reader.
“She worked very hard to you, Henry! ” she scolds. I don’t think you quite realize what anything in the nature of brain work means to a girl like that…And then you were surprised because she threw your slippers at you! I should have thrown the fire-irons at you” (Shaw 60). This contributes to a trend seen throughout various literary works where the female characters are more perceptive than the male characters. This trend applies to An Ideal Husband as well. In a discussion with Sir Robert Chiltern about a secret he is hiding from his wife, Lord Goring remarks, “You should have told your wife the whole thing…no man should have a secret from his own wife.
She invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful instinct about things…” (Wilde 370-1). Lord Goring’s opinion on women is interesting because he is the only male character to raise the judgement that women are more perceptive than men. On the other hand, many women throughout the play, such as Mrs. Cheveley, Mrs. Marchmont, and Lady Basildon, express the opinion that men are flawed. During a conversation with Lady Basildon, Mrs. Marchmont remarks “We have married perfect husbands, and we are well punished for it,” implying that men are a hassle.
She also acknowledges how gullible and ignorant men can be, saying “As for how trusting us, it is tragic how much they trust us” (Wilde 350). Another opinion on men comes from Mrs. Cheveley. When she is alone inside Lord Goring’s house, she says “I wonder what woman he is waiting for tonight. It will be delightful to catch him. Men always look so silly when they are caught. And they are always being caught” (Wilde 410). Mrs. Cheveley is implying that men are always hiding something. Inversely, men express their opinions on women in these literary works as well.
In Pygmalion, Eliza’s father attempts to convince Higgins to marry his daughter. During this exchange, he tells him, “…marry Eliza while she’s still young and don’t know no better. If you don’t you’ll be sorry for it after. If you do, she’ll be sorry for it after; but better you than her, because you’re a man, and she’s only a woman and don’t know how to be happy anyhow” (Shaw 29). This quote enlightens us as to how men think they can make decisions for women. Though the line appears to be out of love for his daughter, his archaic views on women are still apparent.
Many male characters express their opinions on women in An Ideal Husband as well, although most of these opinions are derogatory. When discussing Mrs. Cheveley with Robert Chiltern, Lord Goring says, “I should fancy Mrs. Cheveley is one of those very modern women of our time who find a new scandal as becoming as a new bonnet…I am sure she adores scandals…” Although he is referring to Mrs. Cheveley specifically in this quote, Lord Goring’s negative opinion on women can be clearly inferred. As he continues speaking about Mrs. Cheveley, he says, “Well, she wore far too much rouge last night, and not quite enough clothes.
That’s always a sign of despair in a woman” (Wilde 379). Here, Lord Goring is judging a woman negatively by her appearance. Later in the play, Lord Goring’s father Lord Caversham makes an intriguing comment during one of their conversations. He remarks that, “No woman, plain or pretty, has any common sense at all, sir. Common sense is the privilege of our sex. ” (Shaw 412). Here, Lord Caversham implies that only men have “common sense. ” This is thoroughly false, as female characters throughout literature, such as Henry Higgins’ mother in Pygmalion, have common sense as well.
Robert Chiltern expresses an interesting opinion on women during an angry outburst against his wife. He says, “…There was your error. The error all women commit. Why can’t you women, love us, faults and all? Why do you place us on monstrous pedestals? We all have feet of clay, women as well as men; but when we men love women, we love them knowing their weaknesses.. love them all the more…” (Wilde 400-1). In this outburst, Robert is expressing the opinion that women blindly pine after the love of their husbands. While this may be true for some women, it also applies to men as well.
Henry Higgins from Pygmalion ends up blindly pursuing Eliza Doolittle. He also appears to suggest that men love women better than women love men. Examining Ethan Frome, An Ideal Husband, and Pygmalion reveals how characterization, author perspectives, and gender opinions influence how male and female characters are portrayed. Examining how women are portrayed in literature can help us appreciate how far society has come when it comes to female representation. The way women are portrayed in literature is important because these characters will influence how young children perceive men and women for generations to come.