Helen Keller biopic ‘The Miracle Worker’ proves that teachers do not come gift-wrapped


Arthur Penn’s acclaimed movie confirms that meaningful teaching is a planned activity and not a boon from heaven.

In The Story of My Life, Helen Keller writes a tribute to her teacher, Anne Sullivan: “All the best of me belongs to her – there is not a talent, or an aspiration or a joy in me that has not been awakened by her loving touch.”

William Gibson’s play The Miracle Worker, directed by Arthur Penn for stage (1960) and screen (1962), shows us the opaque world of seven-year- old Helen before Anne’s arrival. We see Helen first as a fumbling shadow and then a blind-deaf-mute raging in her own silent universe. She has been this way since an illness in early infancy. Her despairing parentshave combed through thickets of medical institutions and taken Helen to specialist after specialist without success. Now they must have help at home, or else Helen, the elder of two children, may have to be put into an asylum.

In 1887, 21-year-old Anne Sullivan arrives at the Keller home in Tuscumbia, Alabama, as a governess. She has had a Dickensian childhood of poverty and disease. When we meet her, she is still suffering from trachoma.

Sullivan soon discovers that Helen is not a gentle soul ready to be guided, but a fist-pummelling and hand-biting demon who has been seldom reprimanded or brought to heel. “No pity,” is Annie’s maxim, and she battles with Helen both emotionally and physically until she makes a breakthrough. Fortunately, she has the support of Helen’s mother, who, in spite of an obstreperous husband, is determined to learn the manual alphabet and communicate with Helen besides giving her the security of a mother’s lap and arms.

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