Illustration of Helen Keller and her teacher, Annie Sullivan

The Miracle Worker

by William Gibson

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What is the moral lesson of The Miracle Worker?

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The moral lesson of The Miracle Worker is that discipline and self-control are necessary for learning, growth, and success.

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The moral lesson in The Miracle Worker by William Gibson revolves around the need for discipline and self-control in the search for growth and success. The play presents scenes from the early life of Helen Keller, who becomes deaf and blind as a child. Helen's parents feel so sorry for...

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her that they let her get away with whatever she wants. She throws violent tantrums when she doesn't get her way, and her family gives her food to settle her down, thus rewarding rather than correcting her behavior.

This changes when teacher Annie Sullivan comes to live with the Keller family. Annie is young, but she sees the problem at once. She insists that the family discipline Helen. Even if she is deaf and blind, Helen must learn that some behaviors will not be tolerated and that no means no. Annie proceeds to apply discipline to Helen. She holds onto Helen's wrists to enforce her correction, stopping Helen in the middle of her tantrums and making her clean up her messes and behave properly. Annie shows Helen that actions have consequences.

Yet Helen's family does not reinforce this discipline. They continue to let Helen get away with bad behavior. Therefore, Annie asks to spend two weeks alone with Helen in the garden house. There, she begins to teach Helen some manners as well as some basics of communication. Helen makes excellent progress under Annie's discipline, but the moment she returns to the main house, she throws another tantrum. Annie keeps right on correcting Helen, despite her parents' desire to let the girl be.

Finally, when Annie insists that Helen go get more water to replace what she has spilled, Helen makes a major breakthrough. She finally realizes that the words Annie has been teaching her have meaning and that there is a reason for the discipline her teacher has been providing. Helen now knows that only with discipline and self-control will she be able to learn and grow.

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What is the message of The Miracle Worker?

The play shows Anne Sullivan, the miracle worker, as a person with a strong sense of self who perceives Helen Keller as fully human, not as a lesser "other." Sullivan, in other words, sees through Keller's multiple handicaps to the person inside, a person she understands is as gifted as herself and all the abled people of the world.

Because Sullivan is able to perceive Helen Keller as a little girl who can be expected to behave like other children and as a child crying out for connection and communication, Sullivan is able to have the patience and perseverance to withstand a situation a lesser teacher might have quickly fled. She puts up with Helen's pinches, tantrums, and assaults to break through to the person underneath and, at the same times, creates boundaries that are structured enough so that Helen can learn and thrive. She perseveres in trying to teach her language, knowing that it is the key that will unlock everything for the child. She genuinely cares about Helen, and that love in action becomes a sustaining force.

The play also shows the Kellers as culturally handicapped. Not only can they not see the daughter they love as fully human because of her disabilities, they at first judge Miss Sullivan on the basis of her lower-class Irish ethnicity and mistake her blunt honesty for rudeness and lack of class. They have to not only learn to reevaluate their daughter's abilities but to learn to see through their cultural prejudice to appreciate the treasure Anne Sullivan is.

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