Illustration of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan

The Miracle Worker

by William Gibson
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What is the message of The Miracle Worker?

The message of The Miracle Worker is that love, patience, and perseverance can overcome handicaps, whether physical or cultural.

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The play shows Anne Sullivan, the miracle worker, as a person with a strong sense of self who perceives Helen Keller as fully human, not as a lesser "other." Sullivan, in other words, sees through Keller's multiple handicaps to the person inside, a person she understands is as gifted as herself and all the abled people of the world.

Because Sullivan is able to perceive Helen Keller as a little girl who can be expected to behave like other children and as a child crying out for connection and communication, Sullivan is able to have the patience and perseverance to withstand a situation a lesser teacher might have quickly fled. She puts up with Helen's pinches, tantrums, and assaults to break through to the person underneath and, at the same times, creates boundaries that are structured enough so that Helen can learn and thrive. She perseveres in trying to teach her language, knowing that it is the key that will unlock everything for the child. She genuinely cares about Helen, and that love in action becomes a sustaining force.

The play also shows the Kellers as culturally handicapped. Not only can they not see the daughter they love as fully human because of her disabilities, they at first judge Miss Sullivan on the basis of her lower-class Irish ethnicity and mistake her blunt honesty for rudeness and lack of class. They have to not only learn to reevaluate their daughter's abilities but to learn to see through their cultural prejudice to appreciate the treasure Anne Sullivan is.

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