The story of Helen Keller is an inspiration to many people and The Miracle Worker by William Gibson reveals the extraordinary lengths that Annie Sullivan went to in order to help Helen reach her full potential. Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller became life-long friends and Annie ensured that Helen persevered, even attending university with her and helping her understand her lectures through sign language, signing against Helen's hand.
When Annie arrives at the Keller home, Helen is already six years old and has been without any real means of communication since she was eighteen months old. Helen had been extremely ill as a baby and had not been expected to live through the terrible fever, attributed to "acute congestion of the stomach." However, she pulled through and her doctor had been convinced that the worst was over and Helen would recover due to having "more vitality" than any other baby he had ever seen.
As Helen's father sees the doctor out, Kate, Helen's mother, marvels at her baby daughter, talking to her affectionately and trying to stop her from crying. She notices that there is no response when she passes her hand across her daughter's face. She also snaps her fingers and, in her panic, shouts for her husband. She further notices that Helen does not respond to her shouts either and the terrible realization begins to dawn on her. Kate and her husband, Captain Keller, are shocked, confused and terrified at Kate's discovery.