The Miracle Worker Themes
by William Gibson

The Miracle Worker book cover
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The Miracle Worker Themes

The main themes in The Miracle Worker are perception and prejudice, the importance of communication, perseverance and patience, and love and letting go.

  • Perception and prejudice: Annie is able to see Helen as an equal, while the Kellers learn to see beyond their initial judgments about Annie.
  • The importance of communication: Helen and her family's struggle to communicate is the main conflict of the play.
  • Perseverance and patience: Annie persists in her lessons with Helen against the odds and refuses to allow the Kellers to give up.
  • Love and letting go: In order to forge authentic, loving relationships, Annie and the Kellers must let go of the past.

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Perception and Prejudice

Throughout the play, Annie is the only person who sees Helen as an equal. While Helen’s parents love her, they feel she is “impaired,” lacking the ability to reason and learn. Because they see her blindness and deafness as deficits, they don’t treat Helen like a person. They give in to her tantrums and provide Helen with a life that allows her to survive instead of thrive. Although Helen’s family loves her, their negative perceptions of her physical impairments cause them to treat her as “less than.”

Annie is able to see beyond Helen’s disabilities to the person inside who is waiting to interact with the world. She never judges Helen, teaching her as she would any student by using tools that fit Helen’s needs. She refuses to “pity” Helen as Arthur suggests she should, but Helen isn’t the only person who is judged.

The Kellers, being a traditional family from the South, immediately judge Annie based on her appearance and background. Arthur is unable to look past Annie’s age and the fact that she is an Irish woman from the North. He places no hope in her and fights against her wishes for the majority of the play.

Annie refuses to let Arthur’s criticism stop her from continuing her lessons. Within two weeks, Annie is able to teach Helen manners through discipline and language. Arthur is shocked at what Annie is able to accomplish. He realizes she is more than the sum of her age and class and begins to support her as a teacher.

Annie teaches the Kellers, and the audience, that judgment based on preconceived notions can hinder personal growth and the growth of others. She proves that people—especially those with perceived disabilities—are capable of more than meets the eye. If Annie had been sent home based on prejudice as Arthur had originally planned, and if Annie hadn’t seen Helen as an equal, the “miracle” that changed Helen’s life would not have been possible.

The Importance of Communication

The main conflict of Gibson’s play centers on the Keller’s family struggle to communicate with their daughter, which causes pain and suffering for all involved. However, the communication issues in the Keller household extend far beyond Helen’s disabilities. The family is unable to communicate with Helen, but they’re also blind to the fact that they struggle to communicate with each other. It’s not until the family encounters Annie’s direct manner and use of tough love that they begin to realize they, too, need to learn a new language.

Before Annie arrives at the Keller home, Arthur runs the household, acting as the gatekeeper for change. Everyone fears Arthur’s outbursts and tiptoes around direct conversation. While Kate is able to get her way at times, it’s not without Arthur’s anger, which is the only form of communication James receives from his father. In turn, Kate is hesitant to have her points heard, and James makes rude comments in hopes of catching his father’s attention.

The shift occurs when Annie arrives and states her direct needs to the entire family. The Kellers are floored by her communication style, as they perceive her direct and honest words as callous and lacking empathy, but Annie’s confidence and clarity help the family see the error of their ways. By the end of the play,...

(The entire section is 1,294 words.)