Task 2: Compare the presentation of gender in terms of power in George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” and Ian McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach”.
In both paradigms of literary text, it is not gender itself that both advantages and hinders the characters in question but rather the schema of such. In terms of power it has been established in a multitude of ways, it is not solely the social status that distinguishes the success of the gender highlighted specifically within “Pygmalion” but more in McEwan’s case the biological capabilities between husband and wife.
Written in 1912 and published in 1916, Shaw’s “Pygmalion” calls immediate attention towards the binding and somewhat obscure social realities regarding the expectations of gender. It is of this time where women were still considerably reliant upon the income and social stability of the man, with many remaining in pestilential arrangement for lack of freedoms; with modern rights including the vote being inconceivable for women of the era. This prompts Elizabeth, an unprivileged flower girl with limited linguistic ability to adhere towards the role of Shaw’s mouth piece. Not only does this create clarity upon the authors own perspectives surrounding the matter of “gender” but further shatters the barrier between the era set within Shaw’s script and the attitudes of a modern audience. This is particularly important when discussing such a controversial issue as the one at hand, not only have times and attitudes towards the topic considerably evolved but one may find it noticeably more difficult to understand and therefore empathise with earlier suppressions of gender, thus hindering the possibilities of action for change. Shaw further disregards this barrier with his use of comedy, the universal sense of humour identifies a relation between the reader and the author himself as he is able to distinguish the conflictions of interest between not only those of a different era but further with those of the opposite gender.
Complimentary to this it is more so the period of publication of McEwan’s “On Chesil Beach” that provides a substantial basis for the literary piece at hand. Particularly as the novella had been written in 2007 but set in the last year prior to theBoth genders; more severely of the Edwardian era were often bound by traditional gender stereotypes, with women hindered with the portrayal of their inferiority and men confined within the traditional expectations of such a patriarchal society. In this sense the production of Eliza’s female incapability and Higgins as a member of the dominant male cast provides an undoubtable mockery of these binding schemas established in the period of Shaw’s early life. It is this exaggerated portrayal of such typical socially ascribed behavior that seems to justify the incongruity theory of comedy. It is ironically comical how a young working class girl so adamant upon the pursuit of her ambition to be “a girl in a flower shop” and autonomy over her own linguistic improvement that leads Eliza’s unique lower class pattern of speech to be a surprisingly central foundation for the humor of the tradition middle and upper class audience. It is this accentuation of Eliza’s somewhat subtle autonomy that universalizes her forced subordination to the surrounding male domination and her unique linguistic ability only symbolizes her unique possession of such power. Although, the fact that Eliza had been forced to face a less promising future with her more conditioned way of speech and dress, she is none the closer to achieving her original ambitions. It is this that promotes such ideas of the play write, as had Eliza not been compelled to the androcentric way of life that Higgins had so daringly offered, the ending of the play would have been the same. It is her gender that promotes the inevitability of her lower position in the social hierarchy much more than that of her class, status or financial stability, regardless of her change in speech, the marginalization faced by Eliza will always be that much more prominent considering her position as a woman.
However, it appears that power is used by Shaw as a tool of division between the already segregated genders, making the inequality of the two more complex than the traditional social boundaries. Highlighted particularly in the portrayal of Doolittle, the stereotypes of the varying social classes are almost completely destroyed as the lack of desire to improve his social position s immediately established. As a presentation of the lower class, it appears surprising that he is able to speak with such a complex linguistic flow as he does. This only accentuates Shaw’s mockery of such social divisions as the schema and pre conceived notions of the lower class’s inability to converse in the ways of the upper classes, has been stripped away, this leaves the genders of the cast as a sole foundation of the superiority of some and subordination of others.