From A Flower Girl to A Lady: The Change of Discourse and Power/D'UNE JEUNE FILLE A UNE DAME : CHANGEMENT DE DISCOURS ET POUVOIR

Article excerpt


The theory of discourse and power, which was put forward by the French philosophy Michel Foucault, is more and more frequently employed in literary criticism. As one kind of discourse, conversation plays an essential role in understanding drama, Pygmalion is no exception. Applying the method of stylistic analysis, this paper aims at analyzing the change of power relationships through examining the discourses in Act I and Act V of Pygmalion, and then presents how Eliza changes from a flower girl to a lady through discourse.

Key words: discourse, power, relation, Pygmalion, change

Résumé: La théorie de discours et pouvoir, élaborée par le philosophe français Michel Foucault, est de plus en plus employée dans la critique littéraire. Comme une sorte de discours, la conversation joue un rôle essentiel dans la compréhension du drame, Pygmalion ne fait pas exception. Appliquant la méthode d'analyse stylistique, le présent article vise à étudier le changement de la relation de pouvoir à travers l'examination des discours dans l'Acte I and l'Acte V de Pygmalion, et montre comment Eliza, d'une jeune fille, devient une dame à travers le discours.

Mots-Clés: discours, pouvoir, relation, Pygmalion, changement

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Pygmalion(1916), one of the most well-known plays written by George Bernard Shaw(1856-1950), tells us a story how Professor Henry Higgins teaches a poor Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle to speak and behave like an upper class lady. It had been made into a musical in 1956 and a successful film musical in 1964, both with the title My Fair Lady. And in the film musical, Eliza, the heroine, was played by the famous actress Audery Hepburn. Most readers, literary critics as well as directors attributed the great success of this play to its plot. They missed the language emphasis in Pygmalion, preferring to regard the play as a conversational love story between Higgins and Eliza. The present author believes that, as a play about the issue of a phonetic experiment, Pygmalion deserves attention for its discourses. Fortunately, some critics can be found that held the same opinion. "Eric Bentley has described Pygmalion as 'a battle of wills and words.' Daniel Dervin observes, 'So powerful is the word for Shaw that Henry Higgins can create practically ex nihilo a living person through speech exercises. The word made flesh is Liza. ...' And Timothy G. Vesonder has declared, 'Even a superficial examination of Pygmalion will show that the main focus of the play is not erotic involvement but the power of language. ...'". (Reynolds, 1994:209) The above quotation from an essay pubished in The Annual of Bernard Shaw Studies strongly proves that the power of discourse in Pygmalion deserves much more emphasis. Actually, when we mention the language of a certain play, we usually talk about the converstion in the play. Conversation plays a decisive role in understanding drama. Besides, speaking of discourse, "generally we use it, as an uncountable noun, to refer to any stretches of language, spoken or written, or of whatever length, that is coherent and is receeived by the receiver as a unified whole." (... 2006 : 3) Thus, conversations in Pygmalion, with its coherence and as a unified whole, undoubtedly can be taken as discourses. So applying the method of stylistic analysis, this paper aims at analyzing the change of power-relations through examining the conversational discourse in Act I and Act V of Pygmalion, and then presents how Eliza changes from a flower girl to a lady through discourse.


Most of the traditional ideas of power originated with Francis Bacon for it was Bacon who said "Knowledge is power". To Bacon, the one who grasps more knowledge possesses more power. Three centuries later, Michel Foucault asserts a new model of the relations of power and knowledge, and he called it "power/knowledge". …


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