Captain Keller is an imperious man and a domineering force in his home.
In Act II, Captain Keller converses at the table with James about battles of the Civil War, displaying his dictatorial attitude toward his son in his contradictions of whatever James says in their discussion. Helen goes around the table and takes whatever she wants from each person's plate as they converse. However, when she attempts to steal from Annie Sullivan's plate, Annie grabs Helen's wrists, and they struggle.
KELLER: Let her this time, Miss Sullivan, it's the only way we get any adult conversation. If my son's half merits that description.
I'll get you another plate.
ANNIE: I have a plate, thank you.
When Keller calls to Viney, their servant, to bring Miss Sullivan another plate, Annie insists that she intends to keep the plate that she already has. This contradiction of his order angers Captain Keller, and he tells Annie that he "must insist" that she be given another plate. Nevertheless, Annie maintains her hold on Helen until an annoyed Keller urges her to be more understanding and have some pity on Helen. Then she asks,
ANNIE: For this tyrant? The whole house turns on her whims....I tell you what I pity, that the sun won't rise and set for her all her life....what good will your pity do her when you're under the strawberries, Captain Keller?
Keller is outraged by Annie's audacity in talking to him in such a tone. He turns to his wife, who then asks Annie what it serves to not let Helen have her way. Annie replies that it does them good only as it is less trouble than trying to teach her. Keller remarks that he has not seen that Annie has yet taught Helen anything; Annie retorts that she will begin if he will leave the room. Astonished at what he feels is disrespect, Captain Keller reminds Annie that she is nothing more than a paid teacher and not there to lecture.
ANNIE: I can't unteach her six years of pity if you can't stand up to one tantrum!...Mrs. Keller, you promised me help.
KATE: Indeed I did, we truly want to—
ANNIE: Then leave me alone with her. Now!
Keller orders his wife to accompany him outside, where he tells Kate to inform Miss Sullivan that she may return to Boston before the week is out. When she questions this, her husband replies angrily, "She's a hireling!" He adds that unless Annie apologizes and has a complete change of manner, she must go back to Boston. Kate asks him where he will be while she says all this to Miss Sullivan. "At the office!" her husband replies as he departs.
After Mrs. Keller returns to the house, Annie asks that she be left alone with Helen. There follows a long struggle between teacher and pupil, and the room is sent into disarray. Finally, Helen staggers out and grabs her mother's legs; Annie follows. She tells Mrs. Keller that Helen ate from her own plate with a spoon, and she folded her napkin. Now Mrs. Keller is convinced that Miss Sullivan can, indeed, teach Helen. So, she talks with her husband privately and persuades him to allow Miss Sullivan to work with Helen alone in the garden house. This arrangement will force Helen to depend solely upon Annie and, hopefully, to learn from her.