At first glance and introduction, it seems Mr. Doolittle is no more than a slovenly and crude navvyman. He serves the plot as nothing more than a physical representation of where Eliza comes from. However, in the two scenes he is in, he steals the show. His listless and content nature belies a man with a sharp mind, sharp ideals, and an even sharper tongue. Alfred Doolittle is a man who knows what makes him happy, and does not like the responsibility that he would gain if he improved his quality of life.
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One of the most important parts of Mr. Doolittle’s character is his words. His natural gift of rhetoric reveals the brilliant mind underneath his calloused exterior. It is the audience’s first clear look at the true depth of Mr. Doolittle’s character. One of the things Doolittle talks most about in his first appearance is his own contentment. One instance arises in lines 255-259 of Act II, where he says, “Undeserving poverty is my line. Taking one station in society with another, it’s—it’s—well, it’s the only one that has any ginger in it, to my taste.” Before and after his “transformation,” he talks about being satisfied with his current position. All he desires is some simple, earthly pleasures on occasion. He speaks about his own disgust with the codependency and responsibility that comes with being a member of the middle-class, the “middle-class morality”. His complaints are most easily summarized in lines 67 and 68 of Act V when he sighs and says, “I’m expected to provide for everyone now, out of three thousand a year.” His words are his greatest strength in this play, and he only wishes to use them for the bare minimum of his desires. They make his lack of motivation clear.
Whereas Mr. Doolittle’s words tell the reader his strengths and values, his actions tell the reader his relationship to morality. The first thing he does in the play is use Eliza’s position with Henry to ask for money. This insight into the morals of Doolittle gives the audience a basis of comparison for his further development. He regards morality as a privilege afforded only to the upper-class. Later, when he becomes wealthy, he regards his own responsibility towards his family as a terrible curse he must bear. Another one of his defining actions, is his rejection of any offer he thinks is above him. Twice, Higgins offers him something beyond his original request: “a seat in the Cabinet” and ten pounds. Both times, Doolittle refuses, saying all he wants is to have a small splurge then continue his normal life. Due to the underlying sarcasm and manipulation in Doolittle’s words, it is hard to judge his motives. However, one could argue that Doolittle’s sense of self-worth is, in its own sense, a form of morality. It is made clear that his sense of morality is directly tied to his financial situation. When he becomes wealthy, he immediately falls “victim” to the same sensibilities he claimed himself above when he was poor. He has few convictions that are not subject to change at the slightest shift in financial situation.
The reactions of the characters to Mr. Doolittle give, in some ways, clearer pictures of his character than his own words. Eliza’s bitter anger and revulsion towards him imply a long history of cruelty and neglect at his hands. This is further confirmed by Doolittle’s encouragement that Higgins should beat Eliza. It is Higgins’s own curiosity in Mr. Doolittle that truly cements that, although not a good person, there is something very interesting about him. The audience already knows that Higgins sees everything as compared to himself, with little regard or empathy for anyone or anything, similar to Doolittle himself, so his attitude towards Doolittle as a specimen of sorts are not surprising. The most interesting reactions are what the “polite and upper class” characters, Pickering and Mrs. Higgins, think of Doolittle. Naturally, upon their first meeting they are both relatively horrified. That being said, their later, more pleasant feelings, toward him are a testament to his own power of charisma. If one keeps character bias in mind, these second-person perspectives on the character of Doolittle can add much to the analysis. They further support the idea that Doolittle is the perfect archetype of the “charming rascal.”
But what is the importance of Mr. Doolittle? How does he help convey the ideas of the story? Doolittle is important at the beginning of the story in relation to Eliza. Now, the audience knows what type of person Eliza was raised to be. He is a point of reference for how far she will come. Doolittle is also extremely important in relation to Higgins. He works as a parallel to Higgins They are both wise, both have terrible manners and tempers, and they are both satisfied with their position in life. What makes one of them a gentleman and the other a scoundrel? The central theme of the show is where the line between classes is drawn and why. Doolittle’s character serves as an important reminder that civility is not skin deep, and is always subjective.
Doolittle is a man who takes what he is given and does not work for what is not handed to him. His scruples are nonexistent, and he follows convention when he feels he must. His oratory gift is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness in that it makes him a casualty of middle-class morality. He does not aid in the character’s personal growth, but instead serves as a message to the audience that anyone can be a “gentleman”. It is the humor and irony of satire that gives him an end with his worst fear, a life better than he deserves.