Individual Identity Formation In The Play Pygmalion By Bernard Shaw And Avril Lavigne’s Song Complicated

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What makes someone themselves? Is it their appearance, music taste, personality or the way others see them? Avril Lavigne explored the changing behaviour of her boyfriend around her and his friends through her hit song ‘Complicated’ and no she’s not dead folks. Her annoyance is expressed through the lyrics “the way you’re acting like somebody else gets me frustrated”. However, her clueless boyfriend is unable to detect the problem with his behaviour around her. Her song makes great connections with George Bernard Shaw’s text ‘Pygmalion’ as Higgins is clueless of his rude behaviour towards Eliza similar to Avril’s boyfriend. Both Eliza and the boyfriend undergo the crisis of maintaining their ‘true identities’ especially when under the influence of others. Sounds simple? Well, not when you’re being forced to change your true identity in the case of Eliza Doolittle and also when you are unsure of what your true identity is. The important question is can you recreate who you are or were you always the same person? I know, it sounds a bit ‘complicated’, but it all comes down to how true an individual is to themselves and others around them. Really, it’s just that easy.

2000’s pop punk was known to be a weird, chaotic and loud genre of music that made many older people’s ears bleed. Many fans of the pop punk genre idolised Avril and her music mainly because it advocated the issues of maintaining one’s true identities and not conforming to society’s expectation, allowing them to collectively weep to her music and lyrics, knowing it would be too hard to actually be themselves. Although Avril was known to be a very weird and expressive artist, set an example of what it meant to be your own individualistic self. Shaw, a historical playwright author, on the other hand, implements the theme of changing one’s identity to fit society’s expectations through the character Eliza which completely contradicts everything Avril advocates in her song. However, both Shaw and Lavigne explore the change in an individual's identity when faced with certain situations. Is your identity really changing or are you just faking it for others?

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In the context of her song, Lavigne is upset with her boyfriend because he is not ‘acting’ like himself ironically enough. But what if he’s not acting, what if that’s the way he truly is? No one will ever know...Lavingne expresses her frustration similar to Higgins when Eliza suddenly acts formal with him during Act four when she won Higgins bet for him. Eliza plays around with his emotions through setting the barrier between them by speaking to him in a formal manner and replying to his sentences with short, truncated and ambiguous sentences, Higgins becomes frustrated as she is not acting comfortably around him. His anger is reasonable, because if I was suddenly speaking to a friend of mine like I am Shakespeare's best friend for instance, well there goes my friend. His expresses his anger towards her sudden change through the quote “damn Mrs Pearce; and damn the coffee; and damn you; and damn my own folly in having lavished my hard-earned knowledge and the treasure of my regard and intimacy on a heartless guttersnipe”. Higgins feels as though he and Eliza are back to square one. He is aware of the change in identity within Eliza and it frustrates him as he was the once who initiated this whole change in Eliza’s identity only for it to bite him back later on. Shaw’s use of language also effectively portrays the change in identity Eliza is undergoing through the description of her appearance. In the beginning of the play, she was seen to be a grisly, dirty girl and her lower class status was obvious through her thick cockney accent. However later on through Shaw’s vivid description of Eliza’s new clothes, jewelry and accessories, he displays the 360 degree change in her identity. Eliza’s newfound look and beauty amplifies her change in identity merely through the use of altering one’s outward appearance based on their surroundings.

In the music video of ‘Complicated’, it depicts that Avril and her boyfriend and her group of friends crashing at the mall initially having a blast. In spite of the seemingly fun and exciting environment of the group, Avril’s lyrics and symbolic meaning throughout the video explores the inability to truly maintain their identity when others have created a set identity of them in their minds. They are not expressing who they are because of others perceptions of them. This is highlighted in the scene of her friends trying on different and contrasting clothes to what they wear normally. Her friends although perhaps just mucking around, symbolise Eliza’s change through alteration of her appearance in Pygmalion. However, when Avril shakes her head roughly at the clothes that they were wearing questions of her friends as well are being true to her. “Take off all your preppy clothes, you know you’re not fooling anyone else” the following lyric displays the attempts of her friends trying on preppy outfits and Avril shutting it down completely. On the contrary, one might think they are simply fooling around, however symbolically it can be seen in a perspective that her friends were perhaps expressing their true selves. A lot of people might believe the boyfriend is at fault, but sometimes girls are just as hard to read. In the eyes of Avril, her boyfriend is at fault similar to how Higgins views Eliza in act four, in her boyfriend’s eyes perhaps Avril is not understanding that his identity is not an unchanging entity and will continue to alter around certain individuals as every normal human being does.

Higgins attitude and behaviour towards Eliza in the play is harsh and poor. Upon the transition of Eliza from the lower class to the upper class, her identity alters through the language she has adapted. Shaw effectively describes the fluctuating change of Eliza’s identity as she changes herself externally through her clothes, hygiene and appearance, however her manners, morals and treatment of others remain the same. Ultimately, she becomes more aware of her social position and adapts her behaviour according to what she is looked out to be. However, the implications of this is that her identity never remains in its true form as it is always changing according to different circumstances, therefore causing her to internally question herself what fake identity she must showcase. She also must alter her whole identity to fit into the upper class society, similar to the song where Avril’s boyfriend has to change his personality to meet the expectations of his friends and the same time his girlfriend. However, the contrast between the two characters is that Eliza’s change in identity affects her true identity and the maintenance of it throughout the whole play, where as Avril’s boyfriend only portrays the fake identity in the presence of his friends and girlfriend at the same time.

In an age, where relationships are getting more a more complicated between teenager due to the lack of mutual understanding and expression of their true identity, conflicts between couples are bound to arise. Avril feels out of place and almost like a stranger when she sees the way her boyfriend acts around his friends, however her boyfriend is unaware of this due to the fact that she expected him to be a certain way and does not know that he has changed due to the lack of communication between the two. Similarly in Pygmalion, Eliza does not express her discomfort in her transition until towards the end of the play which causes conflict to rile up with Higgins. This is proven through the quote “I can’t turn your soul on. Leave me those feelings and you can take away the voice and the face. They are not you”. The following quote proves the betrayal Higgins feels towards Eliza and demands her to take the initial identity of hers during the beginning of the play and to leave the false pretentious identity she developed for him. Higgins perceived his relationship between himself and Eliza one of friendship unaware of her conflicted state, leading to a feeling of betrayal as he thought that he was an exception in terms of understanding who Eliza truly is. Similarly, Avril feels betrayed by her boyfriend as she believed that she knew his true identity, however when she did realized that she did not, it lead to conflict between the two of them. Therefore, the importance of maintaining one’s identity is crucial as conflict will arise due to others feeling betrayed and out of place.

All aspects considered, maintaining an individual’s identity is explored in the texts ‘Pygmalion’ written by George Bernard Shaw and Avril Lavigne’s hit song ‘Complicated’ through the quote “the way you’re acting like somebody else gets me frustrated”. Both artists implement the consequences of what occurs when an individual is not remaining to their true identity and the importance of it. Although, the characters contrast, the implications of them faking their identity is highlighted throughout both the play and the song. The main reasons why an individual might find it difficult to remain true to their identity is solemnly due to the fact that upon certain situations or people, the human subconsciously alters their identity to meet the expectations of theirs and also because of the alteration of one’s appearance or language.

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Individual Identity Formation In The Play Pygmalion By Bernard Shaw And Avril Lavigne’s Song Complicated. (2021, September 13). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from
“Individual Identity Formation In The Play Pygmalion By Bernard Shaw And Avril Lavigne’s Song Complicated.” Edubirdie, 13 Sept. 2021,
Individual Identity Formation In The Play Pygmalion By Bernard Shaw And Avril Lavigne’s Song Complicated. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 17 Jul. 2024].
Individual Identity Formation In The Play Pygmalion By Bernard Shaw And Avril Lavigne’s Song Complicated [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 13 [cited 2024 Jul 17]. Available from:

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