What is the summary of Act II of the Miracle Worker?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

At the start of Act II, It is evening and Annie is writing a letter. In the letter, Annie explains how much control Helen has over her family, "mutter[ing] each word as she writes":

. . . and, nobody here, has, attempted, to, control, her. The, greatest, problem, I, have,...

View
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

At the start of Act II, It is evening and Annie is writing a letter. In the letter, Annie explains how much control Helen has over her family, "mutter[ing] each word as she writes":

. . . and, nobody here, has, attempted, to, control, her. The, greatest, problem, I, have, is, how, to discipline, her, without, breaking, her, spirit.

Annie's letter explains that Helen has few behavioral limits placed on her by her family. She is allowed to do whatever she wishes and receives almost no discipline for her actions.

After writing the letter, Annie works with Helen, trying to communicate with her. She lets Helen feel her face, to show her she is upset, and spells into her hands:

Bad, girl.

Then, she makes a happy face and signs to Helen,

Good, girl.

She tries to teach her some basic words in sign language so that she can begin to teach Helen to control her behavior.

Annie continually struggles to help Helen's parents (Mr. and Mrs. Keller) understand that Helen is capable of learning to control her actions. While they never discipline her because they think she is unable to learn, Annie believes that Helen can learn to behave like any person who can see and hear. She thinks that Mr. and Mrs. Keller are limiting Helen by avoiding discipline. One moment in Act II where this is seen is when Helen stabs Annie's hand with a needle. Annie grabs Helen's wrist to show her that her action is wrong, but Mrs. Keller intervenes and offers her a candy. Annie asks,

Why does she get a reward? For stabbing me?

Kate has no good answer to offer. She explains in a roundabout way,

Well—
(Then, tiredly)
We catch our flies with honey, I'm afraid. We haven't the heart for much else, and so many times she simply cannot be compelled.

Mrs. Keller limits Helen's potential growth by imagining that she "simply cannot be compelled." The Kellers do not believe that Helen can learn, so they do not discipline her or try to change her bad behavior.

This is seen, once again, when Annie eats breakfast with the family. Helen insists upon eating the food off of Annie's plate, even though she has a plate of her own. Mrs. Keller tries to convince Annie that she can just give Helen the plate and go get a new plate for herself. (She wants to give in to Helen's desire to get her own way.) Annie, however, refuses. She wants to teach Helen to eat off her own plate, like any other person would. She wants to teach her manners. She goes so far as to send the family out of the room, so that she can work with Helen independently. After a long time passes, filled with Helen's tantrums and naughty behavior, Kate goes to Annie and asks her what happened. She responds,

She ate from her own plate. . . . She ate with a spoon. Herself. . . . And she folded her napkin.

This event proves to Annie that Helen is capable of learning. It also surprises the family and is an important step toward convincing them that Helen might be able to learn by working with Annie.

For a while, Mr. Keller wants to dismiss Annie since she did not listen to them and kicked them out of breakfast. However, Mrs. Keller advocates for Annie, since she taught Helen to eat with a spoon and to fold her napkin.

Annie soon asks Mr. and Mrs. Keller if she can take Helen out to the little house that they use in hunting season. She wants to get Helen away so that she can become dependent on her and trust her. This will help her to teach Helen. Eventually, Mr. Keller consents to letting Helen live alone with Annie for two weeks. Annie asserts that in two weeks she will be able to "get [Helen] to tolerate [her]."

By the end of Act II, Annie moves into the little house with Helen and Percy, one of the servant Viney's children. She can now work with Helen without interruptions.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Annie has recently arrived at the Keller house in Act II.  She begins spelling into Helen's hand as a means of communication, but the child does not yet understand why.  Helen, who for years has been able to do whatever she wants, tries to snatch food from Annie's plate.  Annie refuses to let her and remains determined.  Annie attempts over and over again to teach Helen proper behavior.  Finally, after many attempts, Helen learns to eat with a spoon and fold her napkin.  After initial hesitation and discussion, the Captain and Mrs. Keller agree to let Annie stay in the garden house with Helen. Annie wishes to stay there until Helen is trained to behave properly and learns how to finger spell. Annie continues to work with Helen. She also remembers her difficult childhood with her brother.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team