The Miracle Worker Characters
The main characters in The Miracle Worker are Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller, Captain Arthur Keller, Kate Keller, and James Keller.
- Annie Sullivan is a twenty-year-old graduate of the Perkins Institute for the Blind who is sent to Alabama as Helen Keller's teacher.
- Helen Keller is a six-year-old girl who has been left blind and deaf by a childhood illness. She learns to communicate with Annie's help.
- Captain Arthur Keller is Helen's father. He initially resists Annie's teaching methods.
- Kate Keller is Helen's mother. She convinces her husband to let Annie continue teaching Helen.
- James Keller is Captain Arthur Keller's son from a previous marriage. He struggles to stand up to his father.
Last Updated on April 14, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1263
Annie is a twenty-year-old Irish woman from Boston who is sent to Alabama to help the Keller family. After losing her parents at a young age, she grew up in an asylum and lost her vision due to trachoma. However, after residing at the Perkins Institution for the Blind and receiving multiple surgeries, Annie was able to regain her vision and learn to read and write. She is sent to the Keller home in hopes of teaching Helen how to “speak,” but she has her own lesson to learn, as she repeatedly hears the haunting voice of her brother, Jimmie, who passed away from an illness when they were young.
When Annie first arrives at the Keller home, she is perceived as somewhat heartless due to her honest and direct communication style, which is coupled with her forceful lessons at the dinner table. Annie wholeheartedly believes that teaching Helen means ensuring she is disciplined. However, the audience learns that Annie’s authoritarian style is simply a facade used to quell the voice of her brother begging for her to “stay.”
Annie has a fiery personality, stemming from her rough upbringing and the death of her brother, but this stubbornness and tenacity drive her to treat Helen as an equal and to believe Helen will succeed at learning just like any other child. In a sense, Annie’s lack of pity and unflappable demeanor are a gift to Helen, as Annie is able to provide Helen with the consistency and discipline she has never received from her family. When Helen has her breakthrough, however, Annie releases the pain of her brother’s death and opens her heart to Helen and her family. Annie’s demeanor changes. She realizes that she, just like Helen, needs love and affection to grow.
Helen is a six-year-old girl who became blind, deaf, and mute from an illness at the age of one-and-a-half and subsequently became a terror around the Keller home. Because Helen’s parents are not trained to teach her, they end up spoiling Helen by giving her food and candy when she starts to cry or hit. However, it’s clear—at least to Annie Sullivan—that Helen is an intelligent child, as demonstrated when Helen wants eyes for her towel doll and hides the key to Annie’s room.
When Annie arrives, Helen is forced to take responsibility for her actions, as Annie begins to discipline her for her negative behaviors—but Helen doesn’t learn Annie’s lessons without a fight. Helen is physically violent toward Annie, unable to understand that Annie is trying to teach her to communicate.
Over time, Helen’s ability to reason and her deep curiosity help her learn the alphabet through signing. Because Annie never gives up and continues to reinforce basic rules, Helen learns that words have meaning and can help her communicate with her family; she learns she doesn’t have to hit or bite to get what she needs.
Miraculously, Helen speaks at the end of the play, a behavior she had just started to enact before she became ill in infancy. Through her tenacious teacher, Helen becomes a well-mannered young girl who can communicate with the world. She demonstrates perseverance and tenacity, showing the world that disability does not equal hopelessness.
Captain Arthur Keller
Arthur, also known as “Captain,” is Kate’s husband and the father of James, Helen, and Mildred. He is a stern man who controls the Keller household and has a distant relationship with James, his son from a previous marriage. Arthur is a prideful man, demanding respect from everyone he meets, but when it comes to Annie, he relents somewhat. Because Annie is confident and refuses to be intimidated by Arthur’s forceful demeanor, he allows her time and space to work.
For the majority of the play, Arthur expresses two moods: angry or calm and aloof. After Annie and Helen spend two weeks in the garden house, however, Arthur changes. Shocked by Helen’s progress, Arthur expresses a more rational and compassionate side to his personality as he offers Annie her arm upon returning to the main house.
While Arthur lashes out at the people around him, deep down, he truly loves his daughter and doesn’t want to see her in pain. Ultimately, he listens to Kate’s, Annie’s, and James’s opinions, which leads to Helen’s success.
Kate is Helen and Mildred’s mother and James’s stepmother. She is a young, compassionate woman who simply wants the best for her daughter, but due to Helen’s disabilities, she is unable to properly care for her in a way that will help Helen thrive.
Kate is hopeful, never missing a chance to see a doctor or scientist who could potentially help Helen. While she’s afraid to follow Annie’s guidance, she chooses to believe in Annie when Arthur would rather turn her out.
While Kate could be perceived as a submissive character based on her relationship with Arthur, she always makes her opinions known, even if her husband refuses to listen. She doesn’t relent when it comes to finding someone to help Helen, and even though she is frustrated with Annie’s tactics, she fights for her to stay when Arthur is against it. Kate knows what’s best for Helen and lets Annie take control, which ultimately changes everyone’s life for the better.
James is Arthur’s son from a previous marriage. He spends most of his time making rude and sarcastic comments that goad everyone in the room, but this negativity stems from his broken relationship with Arthur. James resents Arthur’s choice of marrying a younger woman and feels Arthur has forgotten his mother. The men don’t get along, and it seems that no matter what James says or does, Arthur never speaks to him with affection. James ends up biting his tongue in most conversations or resorting to passive-aggressive comments.
When Annie arrives and stands up to Arthur, it gives James the courage to do the same. He is able to find the strength to tell his father that Helen needs rules, which gives Annie the space and time she needs to help Helen make a breakthrough. When James stands up to Arthur at the supper table, his courage ultimately allows for Helen’s “miracle” moment and affords James the respect he has been craving.
Jimmie, also known as “the boy’s voice,” is Annie’s brother, who died at a young age. His voice haunts Annie throughout the play, causing her to forgo compassion and an emotional attachment to Helen. But when Helen speaks for the first time, Annie is able to let go of her painful past, and her brother’s voice disappears.
Ev is Arthur’s sister and claims to be a cousin of Robert E. Lee. She is a very traditional Southern woman, which is shown through her strong opinions about Annie and the family legacy, but she later welcomes Annie into their home when she sees Helen succeed.
Born in Greece, Anagnos is a man from the Perkins Institution who sends Annie to the Keller home. He gives Annie a chance to make a living by giving her an advance in pay and the support she needs to succeed as a teacher.
Viney is a black servant who cooks for the Kellers and cares for the home.
Martha and Percy
Martha and Percy are two black children who live down the street from the Kellers and play with Helen.