Illustration of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan

The Miracle Worker

by William Gibson

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What is the main conflict in The Miracle Worker?

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The main conflict in The Miracle Worker is that between Helen and Annie.

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The Miracle Worker's central conflict is between Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan. Annie wants to bring Helen into contact with a world that has been closed to her due to her blindness and deafness. However, Helen is a child, and a frustrated one at that. It takes a great deal of patience for Annie to make a breakthrough in reaching out to her.

The biggest hurdle (and certainly the most physically demanding one) is Annie having to teach Helen better manners. Helen's family have humored her uncouth ways and rudeness because they pity her, essentially believing she is not capable of being better because of her disabilities. However, Annie goes out of her way to teach Helen how to use a fork and napkin and instills discipline in her. Helen puts up a fight and even knocks a tooth out of Annie's head at one point, but Annie is resilient and prevails.

The conflict is resolved when Annie is finally able to break through to Helen at the well when they're refilling the pitcher. Helen realizes the meaning of the words Helen has been spelling in the palm of her hand and becomes excited by the revelation. At this point, Helen is fully willing to learn and finally able to communicate with others.

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What is the main conflict as the play The Miracle Worker begins?

As the play opens, it is evening and Captain Keller, his wife, and the doctor stand around a crib in the lamplight; there is relief in them as the nineteen-month-old has survived what the doctor calls "acute congestion of the stomach and the brain." (This may have been Scarlet Fever or meningitis.)

As Captain Keller escorts the physician out, Kate Keller comforts her baby; then, she moves her finger in front of the baby's eyes, but the child does not follow it. Snapping her fingers gets no reaction from her child, nor do her shrill screams.  When her husband rushes into the room, she tells him to look as she passes her hand before the baby's eyes. Keller does not understand her movements, but when she holds the lamp before the baby's face, Keller sees that there is no reaction.

KELLER [hoarsely]: Helen. Helen!

KATE:  Or hear.  When I screamed she didn't blink. Not an eyelash--

The parents are devastated; Keller's face has "something like fury in it," while Mrs. Keller nearly faints, stifling her cry of dismay with her knuckles in her mouth. Their normal baby has lost eyesight and hearing both.

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