Act 1 Summary
The play opens in the Keller home as a doctor examines a young child named Helen. Helen’s mother, Kate Keller, and Helen’s father, Captain Arthur Keller, look on with tired eyes. The doctor says, “She’ll live,” and a wave of relief washes over the room.
As Arthur walks the doctor to his buggy, Kate leans over the crib to comfort Helen, but she quickly realizes something is wrong. Frantically, Kate screams to Arthur for help as she waves her hands over Helen’s face and yells her name. When Arthur rushes in, he examines the child and realizes Helen cannot see or hear. The lights dim, and the sound of chimes move time forward.
The lights rise, signifying five years have passed. Helen, six and a half years old, is described as “unkempt.” She is accompanied by her dog, Belle, and two black children named Martha and Percy, who are playing with paper dolls.
Helen thrusts her hands at their faces, trying to understand the movement of their mouths. Percy notices Helen is trying to talk, as she reaches for her own lips. She becomes so frustrated that she bites her fingers. Martha tries to stop her from hurting herself, but this enrages Helen, who pins Martha down and grabs the scissors. Percy rings a bell for help.
Inside, Kate rocks the cradle of baby Mildred; Arthur is reading; Aunt Ev, Arthur’s sister, is knitting; and James, Arthur’s son from a previous marriage, sits quietly. When Kate hears the bell, she runs outside and pulls Helen off Martha.
Kate brings Helen inside, and Ev gives Helen a towel doll she made for her to calm her down. Helen examines the doll and realizes it has no facial features. She taps on the face to show the missing eyes, but no one understands the gesture. Helen rips two buttons off Ev’s dress and gives them to Kate. Ev is angry, but Kate realizes what Helen wants—eyes for her doll. As Kate sews the eyes on the doll, Ev realizes Helen has the ability to reason.
The group looks at Helen as she rocks the towel baby in her arms, but the mood quickly shifts when Helen overturns the cradle holding Mildred. Thankfully, Arthur catches the baby before she hits the floor as Helen places her towel baby in the crib. Arthur wants to punish Helen, but Kate explains she can’t understand punishment. Kate holds Helen in her arms until the lights fade.
The audience hears a man’s voice with a Greek accent. The man, Anagnos, is from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. He says Dr. Bell believes “the girl” can be taught and that they will send a woman named Annie Sullivan, a working-class Irish girl and Perkins graduate, to help. Annie, a woman of twenty, sits with her eyes shut. Her eyes have been sensitive to light since she contracted trachoma as a child, which left her blind for several years until multiple surgeries corrected the issue.
Anagnos says Annie doesn’t have tact or talent, but she could help “the girl.” He gives Annie an advance in pay and a garnet ring. Annie emotionally breaks down, remembering how heartbroken she was when her brother, Jimmie, died. Perkins gave her a second chance at life.
A group of blind children enter the room and bring Annie a pair of smoked glasses to help protect her eyes, because she’s going where “the sun is fierce.” The children have also bought Helen a doll.
The children leave, and Annie is left alone. She sits on the ground holding the doll as the light shifts, signifying a past memory. The audience hears a boy’s voice call to Annie. In real time, Anagnos calls from offstage, breaking Annie’s trance. She yells, “Coming!” as the lights slowly rise on the Keller home.
Kate, accompanied by a black servant named Viney, eagerly waits for Annie upstairs in what will be Annie’s room. She tidies up Helen and gives her a peppermint drop. Meanwhile, Arthur heads to the porch to read and finds James lounging. Arthur reminds him of his chores, but James tells Arthur that taking Kate to the train is his chore. When Kate comes downstairs,...
(The entire section is 1,339 words.)