In The Miracle Worker, how is the breach between James and Keller further developed? What is the basis for their argument?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even from the beginning of The Miracle Worker, it is evident that there is animosity between James and his father, Captain Keller. James tries to resist his father's authority but as he says himself, if his father makes any claim then "that makes it a fact."(Act I) Even when James agrees with his father, he is misunderstood. Kate is not James' mother and James feels somewhat excluded from the family unit. He does not appear to be able to do right for doing wrong and is often criticized by his father. Captain Keller recognizes that perhaps Mildred is overlooked when Helen gets all the attention but he appears to miss the point that James is also perhaps neglected by his father. 

Annie comes to appreciate James' very dry sense of humor but his father is often not amused by it and he even casts aspersions on James' ability to hold a conversation "If my son’s half merits that description."(Act II) After Annie persuades the Keller family to allow her to spend time alone with Helen, James, trying to reach his father, wonders what "enables her (Annie) to get anything she wants out of you? When I can’t"(Act II) but Captain Keller does not appreciate this and actually hurts James. He cannot see James' perspective even when James points out that he seems to have forgotten his own son "when you forgot my mother."(Act II). Kate does try to make her husband understand that perhaps he is too hard on his son but Keller believes that James needs "to learn some respect."(Act II) The fact that James does not share their need to have Helen back in the "noiseless" house is also not well received. Kate does try to show support for James, telling him to stand up for himself but James feels powerless in his father's presence as "the world is him."(Act III) 

James attempts to assert himself when he suggests that Helen is "testing" Annie just brings him more displeasure from his father "No one’s interested in hearing your opinion"(Act III) but Annie jumps to James' defence and agrees with his observation. When the dining room descends - yet again - into chaos, despite the family's assertions that they would help Annie in her efforts to discipline Helen, James intervenes and bravely speaks up to his father, wondering whether it has "occurred to you that on one occasion you might be consummately wrong."(Act III). For the first time, Keller seems to respect his son and after the "miracle" there appears to be a newfound understanding between father and son.