Helen Keller was born a healthy baby. She was very bright, even as an infant, and began forming words at only 6 months old; her first word being wah wah (water). When she was 18 months old, a terrible illness left her blind and deaf, breaking the hearts of her parents, who didn’t know what to do.
When Helen is six years old, Annie Sullivan, a young woman who was once blind but now has partial sight, is introduced to her family. Annie is a recent graduate from the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. She has had a difficult life herself, and now feels grateful to have some of her sight back. She vows to do what she can to help this new family, and says goodbye to the school, the teachers, and the young students who look up to her very much. After a long journey from Massachusetts to Alabama, Annie arrives at the Keller home.
Annie’s first day at the Keller’s is not easy. When Annie gives Helen a doll and tries to spell “doll” on her hand, Helen grabs the doll, pushes Annie away, and locks her in the bedroom, taking the key with her. With help, Annie is able to climb out the window and down the ladder, and watches as Helen gleefully hides the key under a piece of concrete from the water pump; it is then that Annie realizes that Helen is a little girl of great intelligence.
Breakfast the next morning is when Annie realizes how little discipline Helen has been exposed to. While the adults are eating, Helen walks around the table, taking food off of everyone’s plate. Annie is shocked and disgusted. The adults in Helen’s family feel so sorry for Helen that they do not impose any rules and let Helen do whatever she wants; this has made Helen unruly, uncontrollable, and spoiled. When Annie does not allow Helen to take food from her plate, a full on tantrum ensues, and Annie spends hours with Helen in the dining room. By the end of this time, Helen has eaten with a spoon and folded her napkin. The family is shocked at the mess, but pleased with the progress. Perhaps there is hope yet.
After much thought, Annie decides that in order to truly teach Helen, she must have complete control of her environment, basic needs, and discipline. Annie convinces the Kellers to let her live in the garden house with Helen and their servant’s son, Percy, for two weeks. The family is not allowed to be involved, and may only see Helen if she doesn’t know they are there. Reluctantly, the Kellers agree. The first night in the garden house is not easy, as Helen refuses to let Annie touch her. Things begin to slowly change when Helen allows Annie to press shapes and patterns into the palm of her hand, thus beginning the teaching of letters and symbols. As the two weeks go by, Annie has taught Helen manners, how to crochet, how to eat correctly, and other useful skills. Annie asks the Kellers for more time alone with Helen, but they miss her and do not allow it.
To celebrate Helen’s return into the house, the Kellers have a special dinner in her honor. Annie knows this is a huge mistake, and when Helen reverts back to her old unruly behavior or grabbing everyone’s food, Annie puts a stop to it. Helen does not like this and throws a pitcher of water in Annie’s face. Immediately, Annie grabs Helen and the pitcher, and takes her out to the water pump. Helen is flailing about and crying, but Annie does not give in. As the pump flows water into Helen’s hands, Annie spells “water” on her palm, and Helen remembers the only word she knew from her infancy. Then, something truly incredible happens: Helen understands! She realizes that all of this time, Annie has been trying to teach her words to communicate, and gets overwhelmingly excited. Helen rushes from place to place, object to object, with Annie behind her spelling the words on her palm. It is truly a miracle. Helen gestures to Annie as if to ask what she should be called. Annie writes, “teacher” on Helen’s palm, and Helen writes the same on Annie’s palm. Helen then gives Annie the keys that she has been hiding, and they walk hand in hand back into the house, ending the play.
Annie and Helen go on to have an incredible relationship, and Helen Keller is known as an inspirational person all over the world. Imagine if Annie had given up on Helen? Imagine if Helen had given up on Annie? This story is proof that with perseverance, patience, faith, and love, anything is possible.
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Helen Keller is known as the first blind and deaf person to earn a Bachelor’s degree in United States. She was an intelligent, fierce advocate for the rights of people with disabilities.
Annie Sullivan was Helen Keller’s teacher and the person who was responsible for helping Helen become the successful and inspirational woman that she was.
Based on Helen Keller’s 1903 autobiography, The Story of My Life, The Miracle Worker is about the incredible, and often difficult, relationship between Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan.