What is this?

This website is dedicated to a study guide for William Gibson’s play The Miracle Worker. This project is made for the Dramaturgy class at the University of Missouri by Kayla Flint, Lindsay Gilhousen and Sheldon Price.

American Sign Language Alphabet

In this play, the importance of sign language and spelling out words is crucial.  You may be curious and wonder “what does this alphabet look like?”  Well here’s a simple chart to help you out.

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.” -Helen Keller, 1891.

Imagine what it would be like to never be able to speak.  In the comment section, discuss with your classmates other methods of communicating.  Be creative, how would you get across ideas that you can’t speak?

Blindness

In this play, Helen Keller is mute.  She and Anne also share a common ground in blindness.  Helen remains blind due to the sickness that she was struck with at nineteen months, although the doctors never gave her an exact diagnosis.  The doctors always called it an acute congestion of the stomach and brain, although medicine was so primitive in those days that an “acute congestion” could have meant anything.  Anne had granular trachoma on her eyes, which is a pretty serious condition if not treated properly.  It is caused by some type of contact with another individual with trachoma.  Anne’s was fixed, although she often wore her smoked glasses because her eyes were still sensitive to light.

Fun Fact: There are no photographs showing Anne Sullivan wearing her smoked glasses, despite how often she refers to them.

In this play, Anne writes in a journal a lot.  Later on in Helen’s life, she starts to keep a journal as well.  For this exercise, spend at least an hour either blindfolded or mute, and then write about your experience in the comment section.  What was difficult for you?  What did you notice that you usually don’t?

Protagonist/Antagonist

In many plays, there is a strong sense of a Protagonist (the leading character, the one that the audience sympathizes with) and an Antagonist (the opposing character, the one that gets in the way of the protagonist’s journey).  This play is a little different from others, however.

In the comment section, discuss this play.  Who is the protagonist?  Who is the antagonist?  Is there one of either?  Keep in mind that there are no wrong answers, as long as you can defend your thoughts.  Also discuss who this play is about.  Is this a play about Helen overcoming her difficult setbacks, or is it about Anne teaching an unteachable child?

Timeline

One of the important things to think of when reading a play is the time it was written compared to the time that the play takes place.  There may be meanings written into the play that you may not have previously thought of.  This play is a little interesting, since he wrote the first draft of it, the teleplay, in 1957, four years before the first theatre draft.  But for now, we’ll focus on that first draft onward, what lead up to his finalization of the play.

1957 – The Eisenhower Doctrine.  Under this, a country could ask for help from America (economic or military) if they felt threatened by another country.

1957 – Civil Rights Act of 1957.  This bill was to primarily ensure that all African-Americans could vote, even though they’d been allowed to vote for a while.  This was also famous for setting the record for the longest one-man filibuster in the history of the senate.

1957 – The Soviet Union launches “Sputnik”, the infamous space race begins.

1957 –  First nuclear power plant goes into service.

1957 – Little Rock Central High School, in Arkansas, is desegregated.  These students were known as the Little Rock 9.

1958 – National Defense Education Act.  This provided funding to education on all levels. It was met with a lot of controversy and, four years later, a revision was added on to regulate it more carefully.

1958 – NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was formed.

1958 – The integrated circuit (also known as the microchip) was created.

1959 – Cuban Revolution.  Led by Fidel Castro, this was an armed revolt to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista.

1959 – Landrum-Griffin Act.  Also known as the Labor Management and Disclosure Act, it’s a labor law that regulates labor unions’ internal affairs.

1959 – Alaska and Hawaii become states.

So looking at this timeline, do you think that any of these events helped shape underlying themes in The Miracle Worker?  Explain your theories in the comment section below.

Treasure Hunt

Here’s a change of pace for you.  Follow all of these steps, and answer the questions asked.  The first person to write all of the answers down correctly in the comment section will receive bonus points on the next assignment.

Step 1: Go to http://afb.org (the American Foundation for the Blind website).  Click on the ‘Helen Keller’ link.  When did she write her autobiography The Story of My Life?

Step 2: Click on the ‘photograph’ section.  In what year was the picture taken of Helen holding a dog?

Step 3: Find the picture of Anne spelling into Helen’s hand.  Which hand is Helen feeling Anne’s fingers with?

Step 4: Click on the ‘Biography’ section in the sidebar, then click on ‘Chronology.’  This should lead you to a timeline.  How long did it take for Anne to get Helen to spell after she arrived in Tuscumbia?

Step 5: In the ‘Related Links’ section, click on the ‘Ask a Keller’ link.  Go there, and find out information that you didn’t already know.  Make sure it isn’t something that’s already been covered in the study guide.

Step 6: Search the site and find out how Anne taught Helen words that are weren’t things she could physically touch, such as “laugh” and “think.”

Step 7: Finally, find out if Helen ever learned how to speak.

Happy hunting!

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