What effects has Helen had on the life of her family in the play The Miracle Worker?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Miracle Worker by William Gibson reveals the start of Helen Keller's journey of discovery as she must learn to exist in her world of darkness and silence. Annie Sullivan is the person who helps Helen discover language because as Annie points out to Kate, Helen's mother, language "is to the mind more than light is to the eye." Kate is curious to understand Annie's methods of teaching and also tries to learn how to create meaning in the hand-tapping movements which Annie hopes will reveal the world to Helen. Annie's patience and determination is unmatched and her efforts will change Helen's life and that of her whole family.

When Annie arrives at the Keller home, life is difficult. Helen is six years old and as indicated in Act 2 scene 2, Helen is "lacking in human restraint." She is wild and unmanageable. Scene three reveals that Helen's mother has "lost her girlish playfulness... a woman steeled in grief."  James, who is Helen's half brother, has accepted Helen's outrageous behavior as if it is normal and is resigned to having to tolerate her aggressiveness. James has also been affected by having to always take second place to Helen's shenanigans (mischief-making) and he does not receive the attention he craves from his father. He even suggests that Helen belongs in an asylum. James shows contempt for his father because his father is overbearing and authoritarian and does not respect the opinion of others. James is too young to understand his father's own feelings of hopelessness.  

Captain Keller is James' and Helen's father and he shows his despair when he says "I've stopped believing in wonders" in Act 1 scene 3. Although Kate Keller will never give up trying to find ways to help or cure Helen, Helen's father has become cynical and refers to "fool" doctors and suggests that doctors and their potential cures just break his wife's heart every time. Captain Keller confirms the stress which affects this family daily when he says "The house is at sixes and sevens from morning till night over the child." It is through Annie's dedication and Kate's hope and patience that the family gradually starts to pick up the pieces of its damaged relationships. 

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The Miracle Worker

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