Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
The Miracle Worker recounts Helen Keller’s discovery of language, through the teaching of Annie Sullivan, after losing her sight and hearing in early childhood. It was produced as a television play in 1957, was published in 1957, was produced as a stage play in 1960 and as a movie in 1962.
The story is set in the Keller family home in Tuscumbia, Alabama. In the opening scene, the family learns that baby Helen will survive a life-threatening fever. Her mother Kate, however, discovers the terrible price of Helen’s survival when she realizes that the baby cannot see or hear. When Helen is six, her father is inclined to institutionalize her, but Kate wishes to search for better medical care. Alexander Graham Bell considers Helen’s case but cannot help. Finally, the Kellers contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston; the director sends Annie to them.
When Annie first encounters Helen, the child has never been disciplined. Isolated in silence and darkness, Helen wanders the house and is prone to tantrums. Annie has herself been institutionalized, so she sympathizes with the urgency Kate feels about Helen. Annie is also blind, so she knows partly what Helen’s world is like. She knows that the key to Helen’s transformation is language. Annie succeeds in teaching Helen to finger-spell several words, realizing that her pupil understands this activity only as a memorization game—Helen does not understand that the sequences...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
One-and-a-half-year-old Helen Keller is sick with acute congestion and a high fever. She makes it through the ordeal, but after the doctor leaves, her parents, Captain Arthur and Kate Keller, are horrified to discover that the illness left Helen deaf and blind. Five years pass and the Keller family is unable to find any doctor, teacher, or quack who can do anything to help Helen. The undisciplined, groping, curious girl is left to her own devices, grabbing toys from other children, knocking papers off desks, and eating off other people’s plates. When she overturns the cradle, tumbling the baby, Mildred, onto the floor, the Captain agrees to write to yet another rumored specialist in the hope that someone might be able to train Helen.
The Captain’s letter eventually finds its way to Boston and the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where a governess is found for Helen. Twenty-year-old Annie Sullivan just completed her own education at Perkins. She was an abandoned child, left to care for her sickly brother, Jimmie, who died in the state almshouse. Now, after nine eye operations and a turbulent education, Annie is being sent to try to teach Helen. Her teacher, Mr. Anagnos, warns her not to expect miracles.
The Keller family is shocked by Annie’s youth and inexperience. It is especially difficult for the Captain’s indolent son, James, to see a woman no older than himself given this responsibility. When Annie announces that she intends to teach Helen language, Kate laments that they were not even able to teach her to sit still. From the moment of her arrival, Annie begins to fingerspell into Helen’s hands. The first attempt to impose some structure onto Helen erupts the moment the child does not get her own way. Helen hits Annie in the face with a doll, knocking out a tooth. Helen then locks Annie in Helen’s room and gropes her way out to the pump in the yard. When James smugly informs the Captain of Annie’s plight, the Captain angrily has a ladder fetched and carries the...
(The entire section is 820 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In The Miracle Worker, Gibson dramatizes the first month of Helen Keller’s life with Annie Sullivan. By the age of six, the blind, deaf, and silent Helen is a savage child, gobbling food with her hands off any plate that she wants to invade around the family dinner table, even wrestling a young playmate to the ground and attacking her with scissors. Helen’s family, the Kellers of Tuscumbia, Alabama, indulge nearly all of Helen’s demands until they hire Annie Sullivan from the Perkins Institute for the Blind to be Helen’s teacher and companion.
Herself only twenty years old and formerly blind, Annie insists upon civilizing Helen’s behavior, much to the consternation of the family, who see Annie’s treatment of Helen as brutally strict. Annie insists that the family’s tenderness is misguided pity rather than love, that a superior love for Helen will respect her potential and demand that she live up to it. After a protracted struggle over Helen’s table manners, for example, Annie is able to teach Helen to fold her napkin and use a spoon rather than her hands to eat from her own plate; however, the willful Helen returns to her more savage ways whenever she senses the family’s indulgence, so Annie insists that she be permitted to teach Helen in isolation for two weeks.
In a garden house behind the family dwelling, Annie succeeds in calming Helen somewhat and teaches her a “finger-game,” spelling words into Helen’s...
(The entire section is 485 words.)