Pygmalion Plot Summary
One rainy evening in London, two gentlewomen, a mother and a daughter, are waiting for Freddy, the son and brother of the pair, to hail a taxi. They're standing under the shelter of a portico crowded with people when Freddy carelessly bumps into a flower girl. The girl attempts to get the mother to buy the flowers her son has damaged, and is successful. She then tries to sell her flowers to another gentleman, when someone in the crowd warns her that a man is taking notes on what she has been saying. She becomes hysterical, believing the man wrongly suspects her of prostitution, but it is discovered that he is merely a phonetician taking down her accent in phonetic script. He demonstrates that he can tell where any man in England was born just by hearing his accent. The gentleman the flower girl originally propositioned introduces himself to the phonetician as Colonel Pickering, an expert in Indian dialects. The notetaker reveals himself to be Henry Higgins, author of the Universal Grammar and professional language tutor. They part together for dinner, after Higgins throws a generous handful of coins to the miserable flower girl.
The next morning, Higgins is showing Pickering his laboratory when the flower girl arrives at his house. She announces that she want to take English lessons in order to speak well enough to work in a shop. The two phoneticians are shocked but amused by her proposition, and Pickering bets Higgins that he cannot transform the flower girl, Eliza, into a convincing duchess in six months. Higgins decides to take the bet and persuades the ruffled Eliza to agree to it. While Mrs. Pearce, Higgins's house servant, takes Eliza to her room and gives her a bath, Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle, arrives. Higgins guesses that Doolittle has come to blackmail him in some way, and tells Doolittle to take his daughter back. Doolittle does not want his daughter back; he just wants a little money. Higgins suggests that it is immoral to pay for a person, and Doolittle replies saying middle class morality is only an excuse to never give money to the poor. Higgins is amused and gives him some money. Eliza begins her lessons the next day, and she is tutored in the language and manners of a gentlewoman for the next six months.
Eliza's first public test takes place at Higgins's mother's house. Eliza has been instructed only to speak about health and the weather, but Higgins is nervous and in a bad humor. He succeeds in insulting the guests and worrying his mother before Eliza even arrives. The guests happen to be the same gentlewoman, who bought a flower from Eliza during the rainstorm, and her daughter and son. Eliza makes quite a good impression, as her pronunciation and dress are perfect; however, when she tells an off-color story about her family Higgins realizes that she has a lot more to learn. Freddy, the son, is taken with Eliza's beauty and her peculiar ways. Clara, the daughter, is eager to master Eliza's shocking manners, which Higgins explains are in vogue. When all the company leaves, Higgins and Pickering gush over how fun their project with Eliza has been. Mrs. Higgins warns them that they must consider what to do with Eliza when the game is over.
At the end of the six-month period, Higgins and Pickering take Eliza to an Embassy ball. The Ambassador's wife is impressed with Eliza's perfect speech and all the guests marvel at her beauty; however, her crowning success is determined when a translator and former linguistic student of Higgins announces to the Ambassador that Eliza is a Hungarian princess.
Later that evening back in Higgins's study, Pickering congratulates Higgins on his success. Higgins complains that it was a boring task that he will not repeat. Eliza is insulted, and feels that her efforts are unappreciated. She is silent but then in a fit of desperation throws Higgins's slippers at him. He is insulted and says she has nothing to complain about. She says she is leaving and gives him back a ring he previously gave to her. He leaves the room angrily, and she gets her things together and leaves the house. She meets Freddy in the street and they embrace impulsively. She decides to go to Mrs. Higgins in the morning to ask for her advice on what to do.
The next morning, Higgins arrives at his mother's house in a panic. He has reported Eliza missing to the police, and seeks his mother's advice. Before she can tell him that Eliza is in the house, Mr. Doolittle arrives dressed in a wedding suit. He accuses Higgins of ruining his happiness. Doolittle has inherited three thousand pounds a year from an American philanthropist who was told by Higgins that Doolittle was the most original moralist in England. Doolittle laments the new responsibilities he must take on as a member of the middle class, including marrying his girlfriend, but says he cannot resist accepting the money. Eliza comes down and reconciles with Higgins, and they all accompany Doolittle to the wedding. Later, Eliza marries Freddy and opens a florist shop with Pickering's financial assistance.