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The Miracle Worker is not only one work but can be appreciated in three forms: the published script, live performances, and television and film versions. The vast majority of scripts are only read by people involved in preparing a performance. The Miracle Worker is one of the scripts written in the twentieth century that has obtained the status of literature. Nevertheless, reading a script as literature is a strange, if not unnatural, activity; it is akin to reading an operation’s manual for a product one does not have and cannot obtain. A script is most useful in preparing a play; it can also aid in understanding, analyzing, and evaluating various performances. Yet, even the best script is not an adequate replacement for a performance.

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At the time that the play was written, Helen Keller was still alive and was known to most of the educated public. Most theatergoers knew that she graduated from college and, after learning to speak, toured the vaudeville and lecture circuit in the early twentieth century. Her autobiography was widely read, and her name provided an instant image of achievement despite enormous handicaps.

From a historical perspective, Annie Sullivan’s description of her own youth in the state almshouse is more indicative of the way in which handicapped children were treated in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries than either the indulgent defeatism of the Kellers or the persistent pursuit of the “impossible” by Sullivan. Since no one knew how to reach a child with multiple major handicaps, most people considered the task impossible.

Purchase of the script of The Miracle Worker does not include any performance rights. Payment of royalties is required even for amateur performances, and even “lecturing” and “public reading” are specifically prohibited on the copyright page. Nevertheless, drama departments in high schools and colleges, as well as community drama groups, sometimes choose to produce The Miracle Worker. One reason is the flexibility and low cost of the set.

The successful production of The Miracle Worker requires a child actress capable of playing the strenuous role of Helen and a teenager or young woman who can be a believable Annie; merely adequate or even poor performances by other actors will not jeopardize the play, and considerably less is required of the other roles in both time and talent. The flexible number of roles of children from the Perkins Institute permits a large group where children are readily available or a small group where child...

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Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series)