What is the character James in William Gibson's play "The Miracle Worker?"

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kipling2448 | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In William Gibson’s script for “The Miracle Worker,” which was adapted from Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, the character of James is Helen’s brother, an individual of particularly sour disposition.  In a family trying to cope with the deaf and blind child whose behavior reflects the family’s inability to communicate with her and tendency to placate her every whim, Helen’s brother is also her harshest and least compassionate family member.  While Helen’s parents, Captain Keller and Kate, deal with Helen’s frequent tantrums by spoiling her further, their inability to provide the proper level of care for Helen leads them to solicit assistance from outside the family – assistance that arrives in the person of Annie Sullivan.  Throughout, however, it is James, who repeatedly emphasizes that he is only Helen’s “half-brother,” who proves the six-year-old girl’s main antagonist.  James’ lack of compassion for Helen is evident in the following exchange between him and his family during a conversation regarding the proper approach to care for Helen:

James: You really ought to put her away, father.

Kate: What?

James: Some asylum; it’s the kindest thing.

Aunt Ev: Why, she’s your sister, James, not a nobody –

James:  Half-sister, and half-mentally defective, she can’t even keep herself clean.  It’s not pleasant to see her about all the time.

James’ negativity is not limited to his sister, Helen.  His introduction to Annie when he and Kate go to the train station to pick up the newly-arriving social worker who holds the key to the Helen’s future further illuminates his dysfunctional temperament:

James: I’m only half a brother.  You’re to be her governess?

Annie:  Well, try . . .

James: You look like half a governess.

James continues to be voice of negativity as the 20-year-old Annie devotes herself to Helen’s well-being.  As Annie’s efforts begin to bear fruit, however, James begins to change his attitude and, by the play’s conclusion, has proven himself a forceful advocate for Annie’s methods.


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