Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama)
There are two central themes in The Miracle Worker: that the human spirit can triumph over even the most daunting of disabilities and that a dedicated teacher can transform the lives of those with whom he or she comes into contact. These inspirational themes have long been personified in the widely known true-life relationship between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, but The Miracle Worker also dramatizes collateral issues that extend beyond the particular case. Underlying Helen’s process of learning basic principles of what Annie terms “obedience” (decorum, etiquette, and hygiene), there are more universal lessons of self-governance—the inculcation of self-restraint instead of willfulness, the development of self-discipline instead of self-indulgence. Only when these lessons have been mastered can Helen begin to acquire language—which, Annie says, “is to the mind more than light is to the eye.”
The play’s recurrent images of keys and locks are related to the learning process, which metaphorically opens the world to Helen’s innately active and inquisitive mind. Significantly, Helen’s first activity when alone with Annie is to unlock the teacher’s suitcase, finding there an unsuspected treasure, the gift of the doll. Nevertheless, possession of keys—and of the treasure that they can disclose—is not easily come by and often becomes an object of contention, like the doll itself. Those not in possession of the keys...
(The entire section is 494 words.)
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In simplest terms, The Miracle Worker is the story of how one person can enter the lives of others and change them forever. During the course of the play, Annie Sullivan enters the Keller household and through her work to teach Helen—who is deaf, mute, and blind—language, ends up changing all of the character's perceptions of the world, as well as changing her own world-view. By the end of the play the "miracle" that she works, teaching Helen language, has a direct effect on everyone's life and the way in which they live it.
Change and Transformation
The first overriding theme of The Miracle Worker is that of change and transformation. The characters of the play very much want to change their lives but are unsure of the extent to which they are willing to transform themselves. When Annie first comes to the Keller household to help with Helen, the Kellers are desperate for any change in their relationship with Helen. Once Annie begins to take charge of the situation, however, she meets with resistance. Mr. Keller is unaccustomed to her brash manner and is reluctant to give her control of Helen, while Kate finds it difficult to watch someone else take charge of her daughter's discipline. Annie is a very stubborn woman who does not give up easily and is able to manipulate both parents into letting her have the chance to prove herself; however, she must fight tooth and nail for this privilege again and again throughout...
(The entire section is 912 words.)