Illustration of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan

The Miracle Worker

by William Gibson

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What is the connection between The Miracle Worker and allusions to Civil War battles and generals with the action of the play?

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William Gibson's play, The Miracle Worker, has as its setting Tuscumbia, Alabama, in the 1880s, where Helen Keller was born.  As one of the former Confederate States still reeling from the exploitation of carpetbaggers and the invasive policies of Reconstruction, there was a great deal of resentment felt by Southerners for any Northern methods. As a matter of fact, Helen's father, Arthur H. Keller, was a captain for the Confederate Army, and his mother was the second cousin of Robert E. Lee.  Captain Heller keeps the glory days of the Confederacy alive in his home by discussing battles such as the Battle of Vicksburg with his son James.

In addition, Captain Heller's glory as a commander spills into his domestic life as he orders people in the household.  His attitude toward Viney, the African-American maid who truly cares for Helen, is evidence of the old Southern mentality.  When Annie Sullivan arrives, the Captain frowns upon her methods, and, later compares her to General Grant of the North for stubbornness.  When he later discusses Grant's drunkenness, Captain Keller's dislike for Northerners is clearly apparent. 

The resentment of the South against the North is one of the biases that Gibson addresses in his play, along with biases held against the racial and disabled.

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