Women, particularly for the Victorians, symbolize the home—the repository of traditional values. Their violent death can stand in for the death of society. The women in Browning’s poetry in particular are often depicted as sexually open: this may show that society has transformed so radically that even the domestic, the traditional, has been altered and corrupted. This violence also suggests the struggle between aesthetics and morals in Victorian art: while women typically serve as symbols of values (the moral education offered by the mother, the purity of one who stays within the confines of the home and remains untainted by the outside world), they also represent traditional foci for the aesthetic (in the form of sensual physical beauty); the conflict between the two is potentially explosive. Controlling and even destroying women is a way to try to prevent such explosions, to preserve a society that has already changed beyond recognition.
Eliza's escape from the "lower classes," engineered by Higgins, is a revolutionary act, dramatizing how "superiority" was inherited, not earned. It is a lesson that resonates for all societies, and the genius of "My Fair Lady" is that it is both a great entertainment and a great polemic. It is still not sufficiently appreciated what influence it had on the creation of feminism and class-consciousness in the years bridging 1914 when "Pygmalion" premiered, 1956 when the musical premiered, and 1964 when the film premiered. It was actually about something. As Eliza assures the serenely superior Henry Higgins, who stood for a class, a time and an attitude: