Helen Keller faced many challenges both in her real life and as she is portrayed in William Gibson's play The Miracle Worker. Helen is, after all, both blind and deaf. Yet in Annie Sullivan's mind, Helen has still a greater challenge to overcome before she can learn how to cope with her disabilities. Helen must learn discipline.
Helen's family has spoiled her for years. They honestly don't know what else to do. When Helen doesn't get her way, she throws horrible tantrums. Her family then gives her sweets to try to calm her down. Yet this only teaches Helen that when she wants sweets, she must throw a tantrum. She is in charge of the household, not her parents, and life is miserable for all involved. Helen's parents continue to make excuses for her, saying that she doesn't know any better and cannot help herself, but they make no effort to teach her.
This is where Annie Sullivan comes in. She sees at once what what Helen really needs, and that is discipline. Helen must learn the meaning of the word no, and she must learn how to control herself. This is what Annie proceeds to teach Helen, working to stop her tantrums and holding onto her wrists to reinforce the discipline. Annie knows that if Helen cannot learn discipline and self-control, she will probably never learn to communicate in any meaningful way.