The Miracle Worker by William Gibson

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Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

The script for The Miracle Worker begins with a general description of the set, which consists of two areas divided by a diagonal line. The area behind the diagonal represents the Keller house and includes two rooms and a porch area. The other area accommodates a variety of sets as needed. According to William Gibson, since the essential qualities of the set “are fluidity and spacial counterpoint,” the less set there is, the better.

Act 1 begins with three adults gathered about a crib. Directions are minimal: Kate Keller is described as “a young gentle woman with a sweet and girlish face,” the doctor as “elderly” with a “stethoscope at neck, thermometer in fingers,” and Captain Keller as a “hearty gentleman in his forties with chin whiskers.” The three adults are to appear with “tired bearing and disarranged clothing” to show that they have been through a long vigil. While the dialogue begins with the announcement that the child will survive her ordeal, her mother quickly discovers that the child is blind and deaf.

Although scenes are not noted as such, directions for a scene change are given using lights and distant belfry chimes. Three children and a dog are on stage when the lights rise. Two are described simply as “Negroes,” while Helen is described as “six and a half years old, quite unkempt in body, and vivacious little person with a fine head, attractive, but noticeably blind, one eye larger and protruding; her gestures are abrupt, insistent, lacking in human restraint, and her face never smiles.”

Since Helen cannot speak, hear, or see, her entire part is described in the parenthetical directions that are interspersed among the pieces of dialogue. The novice reader of plays, especially those who have never seen a live production, may have difficulty in imagining parenthetically described actions. The directions are detailed enough, however, to ensure that all actions required by the plot are included, yet general enough to encourage artistic freedom in acting and directing.

In the next scene, James, “an indolent young man”; Aunt Ev, “a benign visitor in a hat”; Kate, “a woman steeled in grief”; and Captain Keller disagree over help for Helen. This conversation leads to the introduction of Anagos, who reads a letter that he received from Captain Keller to Annie Sullivan, who is to teach Helen. In the remaining scenes of act 1, Annie meets the Keller family, tries to teach Helen to hand-spell, and is locked in her room by Helen.

In act 2, Annie continues to try to teach Helen. A noisy and violent breakfast lesson is presented in several pages of description. Act 2 ends as Annie and Helen begin a two-week stay in the garden house. Act 3 begins in the garden house, where Helen is behaving in an orderly fashion, and continues as Annie and Helen return to the Keller homestead, where Annie and the rest of the family resume their fight over control of Helen. Annie prevails, and Helen finally connects a spelled word “water” to the thing that the word represents and then eagerly seeks the names for other things on stage.

The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Miracle Worker begins as a doctor reassures the parents of the infant Helen Keller that their daughter’s fever has passed; she will survive her severe illness. After the doctor leaves, the mother notices that the baby responds neither to hand movements in front of her eyes nor to any sounds. The anguished parents futilely call her name as the stage lights quickly dim.

When the lights rise, six-and-a-half-year-old Helen is playing with children who have cut out paper dolls. Attractive but unkempt and “noticeably blind,” with gestures that are “abrupt, insistent, [and] lacking in human restraint,” she is clearly undisciplined and often temperamental. She disrupts the group’s play, unknowingly using the scissors to menace her playmates’ eyes. Despite the family’s apparent strain, her mother remains patiently protective, and her father refuses to have Helen...

(The entire section is 4,988 words.)