What are the similarities and differences between Kate Keller and Annie Sullivan in the play The Miracle Worker?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The story of Helen Keller is well-known and Helen Keller remains an inspiration to many who are awe-struck by her unswerving faith in the future. The play The Miracle Worker reveals the influence, dedication and purpose of Annie Sullivan when she arrives at the Keller's home where she cares for and assists the family in coping with Helen's debilitating condition, Helen having been left blind and deaf after an illness as a baby. 

1. The most obvious similarity between Kate Keller, Helen's mother, and Annie Sullivan is their love of Helen. The most obvious difference is their methods of helping Helen to thrive.  

The play starts just as Helen has made it through the worst of her illness. It is Kate who notices Helen's lack of response to movement or talking and the audience knows that the difficulties are just beginning. Five years later, Annie arrives. Kate has changed from a spirited young woman into one "steeled in grief" (Act 1, scene 3). She has not changed in her resolve, however, and wants to keep trying to find a doctor or specialist who can help Helen.

2. This will be revealed as a similarity between Kate and Annie later when the audience sees Annie's perseverance and intent. It also reveals a difference between the two as Kate is tired and worn whereas Annie is more determined than ever, especially as she has had to battle her own disabilities during her childhood and, even now, only has partial vision. 

Annie is not what the family expected; she strong-willed and, according to Captain Keller, Helen's father, seemingly disrespectful with no concept of her status in the family environment. 

3. Both Kate and Annie have an awareness of Helen that the others do not share. They are both patient with her but they have very different natures which contribute to their different styles of educating and furthering Helen's education and improvement. Kate sees Helen as "an afflicted child" (Act 1, scene 3) who needs to be pampered to at every turn but Annie sees Helen as an obstinate and difficult child. Kate pities Helen and sets no boundaries but Annie does not pity her and insists on defined levels of behavior which is why she would rather take Helen out of her immediate environment so that Helen can learn to trust others and find independence whilst developing respect. 

4. Kate and Annie are both at the mercy of Captain Keller, the head of the household but they respond very differently to him. Kate is largely controlled by her husband although she will sometimes stand up to him when she thinks it will benefit Helen whereas Annie refuses to be controlled at any time, anywhere, by anyone (especially Captain Keller) or anything.

5. Annie and Kate like each other and Kate is interested in how Annie speaks to Helen by signing on Helen's hand. Kate wonders how to communicate because Helen is "impaired" but Annie soon points out that "there's nothing impaired in that head. It works like a mousetrap" (Act 2, scene 1). Kate wants to learn this method too but when she gives Helen a sweet "for stabbing" Annie with a needle, the differences between the two women are obvious.

When Helen learns to spell water, the world opens up ahead of them and the play ends on this note of unity whereas the family had before been divided and almost broken. Kate and Annie can now imagine a future for Helen.

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