Summary and Analysis
This act returns to Mrs. Higgins' drawing room as the parlor maid comes in to tell Mrs. Higgins that the Professor and the Colonel are downstairs telephoning the police and that Mr. Henry is "in a state." Mrs. Higgins sends word upstairs to Eliza to remain in her room until she sends for her. Higgins enters, loudly proclaiming Eliza's disappearance, which has distracted his entire routine since he has relied on her to keep up his appointment book for him. Mrs. Higgins is expressing her disapproval of their having informed the police when the maid announces the arrival of Mr. Doolittle, whom she describes as being a gentleman dressed brilliantly in a new frock coat and other elegant attire. He enters and begins immediately accusing Higgins of being responsible for his present affluent condition; that is, he has come into a very large amount of money which has forced him to become respectable. It has, he says, "ruined me. Destroyed my happiness. Tied me up and delivered me into the hands of middle-class morality." It seems that for a joke, Higgins mentioned Doolittle's name to a wealthy American as being "the most original moralist at present in England," and, as a result, the American, in his will, left an immense trust fund to Doolittle if he would lecture six times a year on moral reforms. As a result, Doolittle has lost his free and easy ways and is now forced to conform to middle-class morality, along with its confining respectability. The sum is so large that Doolittle is intimidated and can't properly give it up. Mrs. Higgins is pleased and sees now that Eliza can return home and live with her father in his new wealthy status, but Higgins protests strongly that he bought Eliza for five pounds and that Doolittle can't interfere unless he is a rogue, which Doolittle readily admits that he is — that is, he's part honest and part rogue, "a little of both . . . like the rest of us."
Mrs. Higgins then informs them that Eliza is upstairs, but before she is to be sent for, Higgins must promise to behave. Mrs. Higgins then reprimands both Higgins and Pickering for being so completely self-centered and inconsiderate of Eliza's feelings. She asks Doolittle to retire for a moment until Eliza becomes reconciled with Higgins and Pickering. Eliza enters and addresses the two men in a refined, distant, and assured manner. Her dignified carriage and her ease of manner unnerves Higgins, who immediately attempts to treat her as his "property," as something he created "out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent Garden." Eliza, however, does not allow Higgins to rattle her by his insulting manners; instead, she thanks Colonel Pickering for his having always treated her as a lady and never as a guttersnipe. She says furthermore that everything that she has learned about manners has been due to the Colonel, and she now realizes that it is not what a person does, but how she is treated that makes her a lady: "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, and always will, but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will." She learned grammar and pronunciation from Professor Higgins, but it was from Colonel Pickering that she learned self-respect. When she refuses to return to Wimpole Street, Higgins predicts that she will "relapse into the gutter in three weeks" without him. Eliza, however, says that she could not utter the old sounds if she tried and, at that moment, her father, Mr. Doolittle, appears at the window in all his splendid attire, and Eliza spontaneously emits one of her old guttural sounds — "A-a-a-a-ah-ow-ooh!" — an exclamation that utterly delights and vindicates Higgins.
Doolittle has come to announce his marriage and to ask Eliza to attend the wedding. He explains that, like himself, his common-law wife has also been defeated by middle-class morality: "respectability has broke all the spirit out of her." When Eliza goes upstairs to get ready to accompany her father to his wedding, Doolittle confesses that he is nervous because he has never been married before — not even to Eliza's mother — but he has never told this to Eliza. Mrs. Higgins says that she will also attend the wedding with Eliza, and Pickering leaves with the bridegroom.
As Eliza is about to leave, Higgins blocks the doorway. He says that he wants Eliza to come back, but he will not change his manners, which he maintains are exactly the same as the Colonel's. Eliza disagrees: "That's not true," she says, "He treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess." To which Higgins replies, "And I treat a duchess as if she was a flower girl." Higgins continues, maintaining that good manners or bad manners are not important; instead, it is more important to have the same manners for all people. If he has treated her badly, she has to admit that she has never seen him treat someone else differently or better. He is proud that she is now independent — in fact, it's one of the basic things that he has wanted her to hear — but he insists that he can get along quite well without her, even though he admits: "I have grown accustomed to your voice and appearance." Eliza then reminds him that he has both her voice and her "appearance" in numerous photographs and recordings; when he feels lonesome, he can turn on one of his recordings of her. Higgins counters, however, that he can't turn her "soul" on, and he says, furthermore, that he values quality more than service, and he points out that Eliza cannot buy a claim on him "by fetching my slippers and my spectacles." In fact, her "little dog's tricks of fetching and carrying slippers" can in no way compare to the greatness of his creation — that is, the Duchess Eliza.
At this point, Eliza is absolutely confused as to what course her life is to take. She sorely regrets the loss of independence which she once had. Higgins offers to adopt her or settle money on her, but he is horrified when he hears that Freddy Eynsford-Hill is romantically interested in her; Freddy, Higgins says, can't "make anything of" her. Eliza responds that maybe she can do something for Freddy; after all, she only wants to be natural, and she wants a little kindness, which Freddy can certainly give to her. She knows that she cannot return to her old way of life, and she cannot stand the idea of living "with a low common man after you two" (Higgins and Pickering), and she certainly doesn't intend to go to her father's house to live; thus, as soon as possible, she will marry Freddy.
Higgins is horrified at her conclusion, and he loudly asserts, "I'm not going to have my masterpiece thrown away on Freddy." But Eliza is determined to have her independence, and therefore she decides that she will teach. What in heaven's name will she teach, Higgins asks, and he is totally astonished when she announces that she will teach phonetics. She reminds him what a good ear she has, and, furthermore, she has more manners than he has and, therefore, she will be able to advertise and can thus become financially independent. Eliza is no longer frightened of Higgins, and she defies him to strike her. Suddenly Higgins reverses himself; he admires her for her independence: her defiance is far "better than fetching slippers and finding spectacles." But even after she has asserted her independence, Higgins assumes that she will decide to return to Wimpole Street and they — Higgins, Pickering, and Eliza — will be "three old bachelors" together instead of their living together formerly as, in Higgins' words, "two men and a silly girl." At that moment, Mrs. Higgins returns to say that Eliza's carriage is waiting. Higgins, who knows that he cannot behave himself in church, has decided to stay behind, and so Eliza bids him goodbye, saying that they will not see each other again. Higgins ignores this comment and, instead, he gives Eliza some errands to do on the way home. Eliza disdainfully leaves, telling him to buy the gloves and the tie himself. Mrs. Higgins fears that Henry has spoiled the girl, and she volunteers to do his errands, but Higgins is confident that Eliza will buy them herself.
Act V presents the fully realized Galatea, the creation of the artist, alive in all of her splendor. The "romance" of the play's subtitle refers, of course, to the complete transformation of the "guttersnipe," the "squashed cabbage leaf' of the first act, into this delightful creature who is more magnificent than any real duchess — more real because, as it develops during the course of this act, Eliza has manners which are better and more polished than most duchesses. Furthermore, unlike the original Liza, the flower girl, this new Eliza has learned to control her emotional outbursts completely; now, her calculated calm and her poised reserve cause the normally self-contained and super-rational Higgins to lose his temper. We can now say confidently that the work of art has become superior to the creator.
The opening of the act implies that the creator, Higgins, could never conceive of the fact that his creation would, of her own volition, walk out on him. His colossal conceit (an assessment that is supported by Colonel Pickering) makes Higgins assume that Eliza has been kidnapped or that something horrible has happened that will require notifying the police. His colossal ego will not or cannot entertain the idea that she might have now gained enough independence to strike out on her own. In fact, it is not until the end of the act that Higgins finally recognizes that the work of art is now independent of its creator and is thus separate from him; she has no further need of him. Therefore, for any but the most sentimental readers, there is nothing in these acts that could possibly suggest a romantic entanglement between the two. Higgins will never accept Eliza as an equal; he will always try to bully her, even though he says that he likes her better now that she no longer fetches his slippers and spectacles. Eliza, having learned that manners involve not only her own conduct but also how other people treat her, could never become involved with a man who constantly treats her as though she were a flower girl.
This act also shows the comical transformation of Alfred Doolittle. Earlier, he was completely content to be a member of the "undeserving poor," and he took special delight in ridiculing and flouting the morals of the middle class. Now he is thrust completely into this morality, which necessitates that he obey some of their dreadful conventions, such as dressing properly and marrying the woman with whom he has been living. It has, as he feared earlier, placed him in a position of responsibility and it has, therefore, destroyed his cherished independence. Whereas earlier he was frightened to accept ten pounds rather than five pounds because ten might necessitate some degree of responsibility, now he is in control of an immense sum and, consequently, the dreadful poor will be badgering him constantly for handouts. Now he fears that not only will he have to marry, but that he might have to help support Eliza, whom he threw out over two years ago. He can even tell Higgins: "Have some consideration for my feelings as a middle-class man." Thus, with this inverted statement, Doolittle has sunk completely into the horrible complacency of middle-class morality.
At the end of the play, the two opposing forces are clearly before us: Higgins ends up so devoted to improving mankind in general that he lacks the ability to be decent to a single member of mankind, to a fine human being such as Eliza. He can teach her to be a magnificent duchess, a Galatea, a work of art, but he lacks sufficient tact in their personal relationship to avoid constantly hurting her feelings. In his devotion to reforming the entire human race, he trods innocently and unmercifully on a single individual human being. When Eliza remarks that she will not be walked on, Higgins answers her in his usual bullying fashion: "Then get out of my way; for I wont stop for you."
Even though Higgins has "grown accustomed to [her] face and voice," it is only because they are convenient pieces to be used, but he can get along without them. Thus the central conflict of the play is now stated: Higgins is the crusading scientist who is determined to save the world, even though he might have to hurt those closest to him. Eliza, on the other hand, wishes to be the recipient of a little loving kindness, and if it means marrying Freddy Eynsford-Hill in order to find this human companionship and warmth, then she will do so.
Consequently, with the conflict clearly stated for Higgins, the essence of human life is through mutual improvement; for Eliza, it is through human loving and commitment — then only the most sloppy, sentimental reader could ever think that their relationship will ever change.