Illustration of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan

The Miracle Worker

by William Gibson

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Act 2 Summary

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Last Updated on April 14, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1341

Annie is in her room, writing a letter about Helen’s lack of discipline, when Helen knocks over the inkwell. Annie jumps up and proceeds to clean her off, but not before she spells “ink” in her hand. The spelling engages Helen, so Annie touches her hand to the ink and spells the letters on her palm again. Annie finishes cleaning up and looks for something else to teach.

Annie grabs a sewing card and shows Helen how to stitch. Helen continues the task alone as Annie tries to finish her letter. However, Helen pricks her finger with the needle. She grabs her doll and tries to smash it on the floor, but Annie catches it in time. Annie takes the doll and hits its head off the floor while holding Helen’s hands. She spells out “Bad girl” and lets Helen feel the sad expression on her face. Then she has Helen hold her doll and kiss the hurt spot. She spells “Good, girl” in her hand and has Helen feel the smile on her face. Helen mimics her actions, but the mood shifts when Helen throws a pitcher on the floor.

Annie takes Helen’s hand and begins to spell again. Kate comes around the corner and watches in silence until she asks Annie what she’s doing. Annie explains she’s teaching Helen words. Kate doesn’t understand why, calling Helen “impaired.” Annie explains that when Kate talks to baby Mildred, it’s the same idea: Mildred can’t understand her, but over time, she’ll learn to speak and comprehend.

Helen takes the sewing needle and stabs Annie in the hand. As Annie tends to her wound, Kate quickly offers Helen a sweet. Annie is indignant, not understanding why Kate would offer a reward for such behavior. Kate understands Annie’s chiding and takes Helen to bed.

The next morning, Annie watches Helen pick at Kate’s breakfast plate while Arthur and James converse. She then watches Helen go from plate to plate taking food. When Helen reaches Annie’s plate, Annie blocks her attempt. Helen flails her arms, which catches everyone’s attention. Arthur tells Annie that Viney will get her another plate, but Annie says she doesn’t need one and grabs Helen’s wrists. Helen tries to kick Annie, but Annie moves her ankles, which causes Helen to kick the table. She falls to the floor and cries.

Arthur tells Annie that Helen is hurt and asks for “pity.” Annie calls Helen a “spoiled child” and shames the Kellers for never disciplining her. Arthur is outraged, but Annie tells everyone to leave the room so she can “unteach six years of pity.” Outside, Arthur tells Kate she must demand an apology from Annie, or Annie will be sent home.

In the dining room, Annie locks the doors. She clears everyone’s plate from the table except hers and Helen’s and returns to her meal. Helen tries to pull Annie’s chair and pinch her, but Annie continues to eat. When Helen pinches Annie for a second time, Annie retaliates by slapping Helen’s hands. Helen swings at Annie’s face, and Annie slaps Helen in retaliation.

Helen is taken aback. She walks around the table feeling for her mother, and when she realizes everyone is gone, she tries to leave. Annie picks Helen up and brings her back to the table. She does this several times until she gets Helen in her chair. Annie starts to eat her meal again, and this time when Helen reaches for her food, she redirects Helen’s hand to her own plate. Eventually, Helen eats from her own plate.

Helen motions for more food, but now she...

(This entire section contains 1341 words.)

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refuses to use her spoon. Each time Helen drops a spoon, Annie gives her a new one. Finally, Helen accepts the spoon but spits her food at Annie. Annie responds by splashing Helen with water. Shocked, Helen takes in a mouthful of food and swallows it. Annie quickly grabs her hand and spells “Good, girl.”

Hours later, Helen comes running out of the house and crashes into Kate’s knees. Without emotion, Annie explains that Helen ate from her own plate, used a spoon, and folded her napkin. She says the room is a wreck and heads to her bedroom. Kate stands bewildered, thinking about Helen folding a napkin.

Upstairs, Annie hears her past calling; it’s the boy’s voice. The boy tells Annie she must stay forever. Annie shakes off the past and grabs her suitcase.

In the garden house behind the Keller home, Arthur tells Kate that Helen is afraid of Annie and that Annie’s behavior is unprecedented. Kate tells Arthur that Helen folded her napkin. Confused, he asks why this is important. Kate responds, “It’s more than you ever did.”

Arthur and Kate are interrupted by Annie, who walks in holding her suitcase. Arthur tries to explain that he’s given Annie enough leeway as a woman from the North, but he can’t seem to get the words out. He stops his broken train of thought by asking her to take off her glasses. Annie does so but explains that light hurts her eyes. Arthur tells her to put her glasses back on and, after a pause, says she can have a second chance. However, Annie says she doesn’t want to stay, because it’s hopeless to work with a girl who has never been disciplined.

Annie explains that Helen’s handicap is not physical; it’s the behaviors of the family that hold her back. The only way she will stay is if she has complete control over Helen. She wants to move Helen into the garden house, but this suggestion angers Arthur. Annie endures his rage with grace and explains how she grew up in an asylum like the one they considered moving Helen to.

After hearing her story, Kate agrees to the terms and offers Annie a servant. Annie says Percy would be a good fit, but Keller interrupts, saying he hasn’t consented to any plan. In the middle of his anger, he agrees to the deal but tells Annie she only has two weeks.

Kate and Arthur drive Helen around the countryside for hours to confuse her sense of direction. They bring her to the garden house, where Helen curiously feels her way around. She finds her doll and immediately becomes wary. She runs to her mother, but Annie stops her. When the door is shut, Helen throws a tantrum. She finds her doll again and makes as if to throw it but stops herself. She sits on the ground and cries.

Back at the house, James makes a comment about Annie getting whatever she wants, and Arthur responds by grabbing his wrist and bringing him to his knees. James tells Arthur he forgot “everything” when he forgot his mother. This makes Arthur reel as James breaks free and runs into the house. Arthur says that at least Annie doesn’t run when she makes demands.

That night, Annie wakes to the sound of the boy’s voice. She gets up in a rage and goes to Helen, who is on the floor, but the minute Annie touches her, Helen hides under the bed. Annie calls for Percy.

Percy reaches his hand under the bed, and Helen immediately recognizes it. She rolls out and hugs him. Annie starts spelling into Percy’s hand, and Helen curiously comes over to inspect. Helen spells “cake” into Percy’s hand, so Annie tries to reward her with a piece, but Helen refuses Annie’s gesture. Trying to gain Helen’s curiosity and trust, Annie teaches Percy the word “milk.” Now, Helen wants to play, but Annie pushes her away to make the point that she is playing with Percy. Helen rips their hands apart and puts her palm out to Annie. Annie teaches Helen the word “milk” and gives her a glass. Helen drinks it and goes back to bed.


Act 1 Summary


Act 3 Summary