“You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking, and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl…” 
Henry Higgins is an accomplished phonetician who can place anyone within two miles of London by the accent alone. On a rainy night in London, near Covent Garden, he scrupulously records the conversation between Eliza Doolittle, a flower girl, and Freddy Eynsford-Hill, a middle-class twit who is looking for a cab after a night in theater. Eliza’s appalling accent piques Higgins’ professional interest in her. The professor even boasts to one Colonel Pickering, another phonetician who happens to wait out the rain, that with three months’ training in the proper use of English, Eliza Doolittle could pass as a duchess.
Professor Higgins. A woman who utters such depressing and disgusting sounds has no right to be anywhere—no right to live. Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of article speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare . . . dont sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon. [Act 1]
Eliza seeks Higgins’ help in order to improve her life; but Higgins takes pride in improving her social status. Higgins himself, albeit his prominent status as a scholar, has the spirit of a shy man who hides his spirituality and tenderness under a mask of coarseness and gruff demeanor. Not only is he careless about himself and other people, including their feelings, he treats people as mere experiment subjects. Even his mother complains about his offensive manner.
Higgins. Pickering: shall we ask this baggage to sit down or shall we throw her out of the window? [Act 2]
Higgins. Yes, you squashed cabbage leaf, you disgrace to the noble architecture of these columns, you incarnate insult to the English language: I could pass you off as the Queen of Sheba. [Act 1]
Higgins has transformed Eliza to his own image of class. This illustrates that people of high society appear to their lower counterparts as cold, selfish, and unfeeling simply because of their inaccessibility to the common emotions and their freedom from ordinary affection and jealousy. Although Eliza is remade in the eyes and standards of the supercilious Higgins, they have only bridged their gap in class with language, an instrument with which Higgins (and the social class to which he belongs) judges people, but their mutual refusal to yield to one another on a more intimate level roots in the preconceived difference. After all, Higgins has treated her no more than dirt under his feet.
Liza. [with sudden sincerity] I dont care how you treat me. I dont mind your swearing at me. I shouldnt mind a black eye: Ive had one before this. But [standing up and facing him] I wont be passed over.
This might be the most invigorating and inspiring scene of the play, even more than than Eliza’s triumphant performance as a duchess at the reception. She has been transformed into a human being who is savvy and capable of claiming dignity. This play is a lovely satire that directs to high society’s snobbery and willful ignorance.
175 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]