A colorful graphic of several people posing and waving their arms to create a larger picture; only their outlines are can be seen; details are hidden

Source: The George F. Landegger Collection of Alabama Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Complex inferences involve taking your text evidence and drawing conclusions from it. You make complex inferences by stepping back from the connect-the-dots picture and looking for a bigger picture—one that often involves setting, plot, and subtle characterization.

Sometimes, through the course of the play, you discover the transformation of a character. For example, in My Fair Lady, the play you studied in the previous section, Eliza wants to improve her status by taking speech lessons from the professor. After weeks of hard work, Eliza is ready to attend the embassy ball. As we read a passage from act 4 of the play, Higgins gives a report about the language expert’s impression of Eliza at the ball. Click on evidence in the text below to highlight words that hint at her transformation.

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A photograph of a crown; It is covered with intricate patterns an jewels.

Source: Crown Prince of Norway’s Crown, skibriye, Flickr

From act 1 of the play to this point in act 4, we have seen Eliza transform in ways that she never could have imagined. What are some inferences you can make from this scene where Higgins and Pickering discuss the events of the ball? Remember, a complex inference will not be stated directly and may involve the stage directions and dialogue. Click on any of the inferences below that are possible based on evidence from the text.

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The servants are excited to hear what the language expert said about Eliza at the embassy ball.
Correct! We can infer by the stage directions, “The SERVANTS gather around [HIGGINS], hanging on every word,” that they are anxious to learn how Eliza’s performed at the ball.

The language expert is extremely self-confident.
Correct! We can infer from “he glowed as if he knew he’d won!” and “He announced to the hostess that she was a fraud!” that the man believes he is an expert.

Higgins thinks that the language expert might not be such an expert since he is so easily fooled.
Correct! This is a complex inference, a conclusion we can draw from hidden clues. One such clue is found in the stage directions that tell us Higgins is relaying this story cheerfully to all the servants, who are “hanging on his every word.” Thus we can infer that Higgins himself feels proud about transforming Eliza and fooling the language expert.

Just like characters in a play, we all have hidden capabilities and traits waiting to be discovered. By connecting the dots and searching for hidden clues, you can make discoveries that allow you to infer meaning and get closer to understanding what the playwright intended.