William Gibson’s play, The Miracle Worker, illustrates how people who triumph over hardships can succeed in achieving their goals. The play follows Annie Sullivan, a half-blind northern young woman, as she travels to Post-Civil War Tuscumbia, Alabama in order to teach Helen Keller, a blind and deaf little girl. When she arrives in Alabama, Annie meets Helen’s family members; her father, Captain Keller, is a stubborn, commanding former Civil War captain and her mother, Kate Keller, is a young, overly protective woman, both of them have kept Helen almost as a pet because they did not know what to do with her or how to treat her. In order for Annie to succeed in teaching Helen, she has to battle with Captain Keller’s stubbornness, Kate’s overly protectiveness, and Helen’s combativeness.
For instance, Annie is forced to show her combative side as she repeatedly faces off with Captain Keller to be able to teach Helen better. For example, Annie and Captain Keller argue at the breakfast table over how to teach Helen, and Captain Keller exclaims, “‘I fail to see where you have taught her anything yet, Miss Sullivan!’ to which Annie responds angrily, ‘I’ll begin this minute if you’ll leave the room, Captain Keller! (Gibson 668). Captain Keller desperately wants to have peace at the breakfast table; however, Annie interrupts that peace by demanding that he leave the room. Annie knows that, in order for her to be able to discipline Helen, Captain Keller and Kate must leave the room so that they cannot interfere. In addition, Annie requests another week to teach Helen without the interference of her family, and Captain Keller exclaims, “And what would one more week accomplish? We are more than satisfied, you’ve done more than we ever thought possible, taught her constructive–“(691).
Captain Keller is more than satisfied because Annie has taught Helen manners and how to behave. Annie is frustrated with the Kellers because she knows that Helen’s learning manners is only the first step in her education; Annie wants to teach Helen communication, but knows that this skill is unattainable with Kate and Captain Keller’s frequent interferences. Furthermore, at Helen’s welcome home dinner, Helen tests her parents and throws a water pitcher on Annie, Captain Keller tries to stop Annie from disciplining Helen, but Annie rounds on him and yells, “Don’t smooth anything else out for me, don’t interfere in any way! I treat her like a seeing child because I ask her to see, I expect her to see, don’t undo what I do! (700).
Helen has been in the garden house with Annie for the past two weeks, following rules day and night, and Captain Keller wants to make Helen’s welcome home dinner more enjoyable by allowing her more freedom than she has had in the past two weeks. Annie knows that if Captain Keller allows Helen to get her way, even once, all the progress she has made over the past two weeks will have gone to waste and she will return to her previous bad habits and distasteful manners. Annie’s being obstinate and her sheer will power help her to stand up to Captain Keller, insure that Helen can succeed in her learning and becoming able to communicate with a world from which she has been closed off.
Moreover, Annie is driven to a constant battle of wills against Kate’s blinding love for Helen because this love interferes with Helen’s being able to learn from Annie, her teacher. For example, Annie turns indignant when Kate gives Helen a sweet after Helen stabs Annie with a needle, and Kate explains, “We catch our flies with honey, I’m afraid. We haven’t the heart for much else, and so many times she simply cannot be compelled” (664). All Kate realizes is that Helen’s bad behavior stops when she is given candy, thus Kate accidentally rewards her for misbehaving. Annie feels frustrated because she knows that if Kate carries on rewarding Helen for bad behavior, Annie will never be able to rid Helen of her bad habits. In addition, when the Kellers are taken aback by Annie’s proposition of spending two weeks alone in the garden house, Annie explains, “Mrs. Keller, I don’t think Helen’s worst handicap is deafness or blindness. I think it’s your love. And pity” (667).
Annie knows that Mrs. Keller’s love and pity for Helen has caused Kate to distort Helen’s differentiation between right and wrong, and Annie realizes that being alone with Helen will allow her to be taught without the interference of her mother’s love. Annie thinks that this love and pity from Kate is Helen’s worst handicap because it prevents her from learning language and keeps Helen closed off from the world around her. Furthermore, Helen tests her family, and her teacher, when her welcome home dinner after her two weeks alone with Annie, repeatedly dropping her napkin, Kate tries to make excuses for her and supposes, “Will once hurt so much, Miss Annie? I’ve–made all Helen’s favorite foods, tonight” (699).
Kate’s desire to make Helen happy on her first night back blinds Kate to the realization that if she allows Helen misbehave even once, the progress that Helen has made in the time she spent with Annie in the garden house will diminish and Annie will have to start teaching Helen all over again. Annie knows that if Helen realizes that she can get away with misbehaving, now that she is reunited with her family, she will revert back to her old ways and continue misbehaving. Because Annie fights with Kate to keep Helen in line, Annie is able to teach Helen how to act and behave like a seeing child, and begin to break through Helen’s shell that prevents her from learning language.
What is more, due to her stubborn, fiery attitude, Helen forces Annie to battle with her in order for Annie to make Helen understand that everything has a name. For Example, upon first meeting Helen, Annie shows her a doll and immediately spells d-o-l-l into Helen’s hand, Helen, wanting the doll, rejects the spelling and whacks Annie over the head; as Annie gets up looking for Helen the narrator reveals, “But rounding from the mirror she sees the door slam, Helen and the doll are on the outside, and Helen is turning the key in the lock, Annie darts over, to pull the knob, but the door is locked fast. (655). Helen has no desire to spell back to Annie, and when Annie will not give her the doll until she spells back she hits Annie with a haymaker and flees out the door. Due to her injury, Annie immediately realizes the difficulty she is going to have teaching Helen, and she becomes ever more determined to succeed in making Helen learn.
In addition, Annie tries tirelessly to get Helen to eat her breakfast with a spoon, but the narrator reveals, “She tries again this time Helen accepts the food. Annie lowers the spoon with a sigh of relief, and Helen spews the mouthful out at her face” (672). Helen resents the attempts that Annie makes to teach her how to use proper manners and fights back bitterly with her entire arsenal of tricks. Annie, instead of being discouraged by the insult, is only more determined to succeed in teaching Helen table manners after having food spewed into her face. Furthermore, Helen proceeds to misbehave once she is reunited with her family, accumulating in her deliberately flinging a water pitcher at Annie; the narrator reveals, “Annie gets her breath, the snatches the pitcher away in one hand, hoists Helen up bodily under the other arm, and starts to carry her out, kicking…”
Annie takes Helen to the water pump to refill the pitcher and it is there the miracle happens as Helen says “‘Wah. Wah’ (and again with great effort) ‘Wah. Wah'” (701). Annie grabs Helen to take her outside to refill the water pitcher and, is rewarded when, once outside, Helen comes to the realization that the letters Annie has been spelling into her hand are indeed the names of the things around her. Helen, although originally furious at being dragged outside, is astounded when she comes to the realization that the things Annie has been tapping into her hand mean water, and she is even able to think back to before her disability when she could say ‘Wah Wah.’ All of Annie’s efforts with Helen are finally rewarded when Helen is opened up as she realizes that everything does have a name.
Annie succeeds in teaching Helen the meaning of language because she stubbornly battles Captain Keller, Kate, and Helen. Annie knows that Helen’s worst handicap is not her deafness or blindness, rather that she has been kept as a pet out of her parents’ love and pity. Captain Keller tries to stop Annie from disciplining Helen, but Annie ferociously demands for him to get out of the way and stop interfering. Annie triumphs over the difficulties she faces and succeeds in her goal of teaching Helen language and opening her up to let the world know the treasures she holds in her imagination.