The Miracle Worker tracks the progress made by Annie Sullivan in her quest to improve the life of Helen Keller. Annie understands some of Helen's frustrations and wants to pass on her skills to an otherwise obstinate, spoiled and pitied child. James Keller is Helen's older half-brother and wonders why Annie even bothers to try because he believes that "Sooner or later we all give up, don’t we?" but Annie is sure that "That little imp is dying to know."
Captain Keller, James and Helen's father is used to running his household and does not take kindly to Annie's demeanour. When she does not do as he asks, he reminds her that she is "a paid teacher. Nothing more..." and yet he does eventually give in to her. James wonders "what’s her secret, sir?" He is indicating to his father that she has been able to get more out of him than James ever has. He feels as if he is considered a disappointment which feelings are reinforced by his father's comment, suggesting that James is the type (unlike Annie with her determination) to "fire one shot and disappear!" Even his "adult" conversations are lacking in his father's eyes "If my son’s half merits that description."
James seems to feel overlooked much of the time with Helen getting all the attention and the fact that Kate is his second wife also makes James feel like his father's affections are elsewhere and he feels resentment - "You forgot my mother."
Captain Keller is harsh on James, gripping him and hurting him, causing James to beg James expects his father to know what he needs from him. He has no respect for his father at this point.