Places: The Miracle Worker

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1957, television play; 1959, stage play

First produced: 1957, on television; 1959, at the Playhouse Theatre, New York City

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1880’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Keller house

*Keller Miracle Worker, Thehouse. Two-story farmhouse located near Tuscumbia, Alabama, that was Helen Keller’s birthplace and the home in which she grew up. Gibson’s script calls for a set consisting of two areas divided by a diagonal line. The area behind the line represents the Keller house and includes two rooms and a porch area. The other area accommodates a variety of other settings as needed. Audiences can best appreciate the simple setting by trying to imagine how a blind and deaf child who initially has no concept of human language would interact with surroundings that she can neither see nor hear.

Angry and full of incomprehension of the world outside her body, Helen lashes out at those around her until Annie Sullivan forces her to settle down, behave civilly, and begin to learn how to understand the world in terms of language, which she teaches Helen through hand movements. Shortly after Annie arrives, she and Helen have a fight, which Helen wins by locking Annie in her room and hiding the key. Annie wins the next big fight by forcing Helen to eat off her own plate with a spoon. Afterward, she takes Helen from the main house to live with her in a detached garden house, where she can exercise complete control over Helen to break her of her almost feral habits. The play’s “miracle” occurs when Annie makes Helen pump water into a pitcher, and Helen finally grasps the connection between Annie’s hand movements and water, thus discovering the concept of language. The play thus ends with her on the threshhold of full entry into human society.

BibliographyBrustein, Robert. “Two for the Miracle.” The New Republic 141, no. 19 (November 9, 1959): 28-29. Argues that Gibson is a gifted writer, with literary and dramatic skills, but that The Miracle Worker is merely an essay on interpersonal relations and that Gibson’s weakness for the inspirational dooms him to the second rank.Hayes, Richard. “Images.” Commonwealth 71, no. 10 (December 4, 1959): 289. Argues that The Miracle Worker’s message of goodness is aesthetically irrelevant.“A Hit at 10: The Miracle Worker.” Newsweek 54, no. 18 (November 2, 1959): 97. Representative of the many favorable reviews when the play opened on Broadway. Focuses on Annie Sullivan as the exemplary teacher and on the themes of love and discipline. Like many reviews, it expresses surprise that the play succeeds in spite of its first being written for television.Kerr, Walter. “The Miracle Worker.” In The Theater in Spite of Itself. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963. Discusses how The Miracle Worker succeeds in spite of some weaknesses.Tynan, Kenneth. “Ireland Unvanquished.” The New Yorker 35, no. 37 (October 31, 1959): 131-136. Describes Gibson’s juxtaposition of laughter, combat, and pathos. Argues that the play affirms the dignity of the species.“Who Is Stanislavsky?” Time 74, no. 25 (December 21, 1959): 46-52. Discusses the theatrical qualities of The Miracle Worker, especially the fight sequences, and examines the development of Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller as characters in the play.
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