James Keller, a son of the family's patriarch from a previous marriage is a young man who clearly represents the younger generation that questions authority for authority's sake. He has a very strained relationship with his father, resenting his having separated from his mother as well as his authorative demeanor. In Act Two, James defiantly argues with his father about the winning of the Civil War battle at Vicksburg, seemingly defending the prowess of the North, much to the anger of the loyal son of the South, Keller.
In his conversation with Annie after she has gotten Helen to eat with a spoon and use a napkin, James is cynical, telling her that Helen may not want to learn, afterall, and Annie should have pity on Helen. When Annie says that giving up is her idea of the orignal sin, James mockingly asks if she will teach him not to give up, indicating that he feels his efforts against his obstinate father are also futile.
Later in the act, James asks his father, "...what's her secret, sir?...That enables her to get anything she wants out of you? When I can't." Hearing this, Captain Keller grabs James's wrist, hurting him; then, he throws James away from him "in contempt." Keller asks his wife, "What does he want out of me?" and James cries,
"My God, don't you know?
Everything you forgot, when you forgot my mother."
In the ensuing conversation with Kate Keller, who tells her husband she is proud of him, Captain Keller wonders aloud why his son is not,
"He can't bear me, you'd think I treat him as hard as this girl does Helen--"
"Perhaps you do." [Kate]
"But he has to learn some respect!"
"Do you like the child?" [Kate]
Clearly, there is misunderstanding between the father and son. In Act Three, for instance, Keller alludes to his wife, "...separation means. A mother loses a--protector." James is baffled at this remark; he later asks Kate what his father wants from him. She tells him to just "stand up to the world,...that comes first."
Finally, when Jimmie defends Annie's methods of forcing Helen to refill the pitcher she has flung at Annie and, placing his chair in the path of Keller, orders his father to "let her go. She's right," he asserts himself as Kate has advised.
"She's right, Kate's right, I'm right, and you're wrong. If you drive her away from here it will be over my dead--chair, has it never occurred to you that on one occasion you might be consumately wrong?"
After James proves himself right and the miracle happens, the family sits together; Captain Keller's head is inclined toward that of James, his son, for whom he has acquired the respect that James so despertely has desired. Truly, Anne Sullivan has entered the Keller home and changed the lives of all within it.