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Annie's greatest obstacle with Helen is Helen's parents. They have indulged Helen unmercifully because they don't know what else to do with her. They are totally helpless to control Helen whatsoever, so they have just ignored her and tried to co-exist with her, but life is miserable and disorderly. Annie feels that as long as Helen's behavior is unruly, there is no way she will be able to teach Helen to communicate.
Helen is violent. She hits Annie, throws things at her and locks her in her room. Helen runs around the table at mealtimes and sticks her hands in everyone else's food. She makes continual messes in the house and has frequent temper tantrums. Annie asks Helen's parents to leave her alone with Helen for a week so that Helen will have no choice but to totally depend on Annie for everything. Reluctantly, the parents agree to do this. Captain Keller does not approve of the chaos that surrounds Annie's methods, and he is a hindrance to any progress that Helen might make. His wife finally convinces him not to fire Annie and to giver her a chance to do what she wants to do with Helen. Nothing else has worked, why not?
I haven't read this book for years, since I was in high school, but my son just finished it in his 9th grade English class. This gave me a chance to rethink what was going on when he and I discussed it for his assignments.
I think, as most agree, that the biggest obstacle Annie faces in trying to teach Helen is her parents, Captain and Mrs. Keller. While they obviously love their daughter, they do not know what to do with her. They do not understand her disabilities as we do in today's society. The prevailing attitudes of the time were to put these children away in institutions, or hide them away at home. They were not thought to be teachable so they were left basically on their own - provided only the basic necessities to sustain life.
Captain Keller, and to a lesser extent the rest of the family, hinder Helen's growth and development from early childhood. They allow her to roam wildly around the house, especially at mealtime, taking what she wants and shoving it in her mouth to eat. She is not given any direction and allowed to roam the home and yard. Helen has to teach herself how to get around. She has no way of communicating her needs other than grunting, groaning, taking things, or hitting and screaming when she is frustrated and doesn't get what she wants. Helen is not taught that there are appropriate ways to communicate her needs even when she doesn't have the benefit of sight and speech.
Annie, with her own disability, has a unique perspective on Helen's situation. She has faith in Helen and believes that she can learn to communicate her wants, needs, and desires. "Annie truly is a Miracle Worker. With love, dedication, and a few kicks to the shins, Annie is successful in teaching Helen many of the things she needs to know how to do to get along in life and be able to do so independently.
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