Aug 302009

Those of you have have seen the movie and/or play versions of “The Miracle Worker” might be interested in this short 1930 newsreel clip in which Anne Sullivan explains how she taught Helen Keller to speak:

Ayn Rand was a great admirer of “The Miracle Worker“, a now-classic play about Sullivan and Keller.

In her essay, “Kant Vs. Sullivan” (from Philosophy: Who Needs It), Rand wrote:

…Annie Sullivan, her young teacher (superlatively portrayed by Anne Bancroft), is fiercely determined to transform this creature into a human being, and she knows the only means that can do it: language, i.e., the development of the conceptual faculty. But how does one communicate the nature and function of language to a blind-deaf-mute? The entire action of the play is concerned with this single central issue: Annie’s struggle to make Helen’s mind grasp a word — not a signal, but a word.

…To my knowledge, “The Miracle Worker” is the only epistemological play ever written. It holds the viewer in tensely mounting suspense, not over a chase or a bank robbery, but over the question of whether a human mind will come to life. Its climax is magnificent: after Annie’s crushing disappointment at Helen’s seeming retrogression, water from a pump spills over Helen’s hand, while Annie is automatically spelling “W-A-T-E-R” into her palm, and suddenly Helen understands.

The two great moments of that climax are incommunicable except through the art of acting: one is the look on Patty Duke’s face when she grasps that the signals mean the liquid — the other is the sound of Anne Bancroft’s voice when she calls Helen’s mother and cries: “She knows!”

We had the pleasure of seeing a theater version of “The Miracle Worker” with some friends when it came to Denver last year, and it was a real treat precisely because of the talent of the actresses who played Sullivan and Keller.

If you can’t see a theater version live, you can always rent the excellent 1962 film version from Netflix.

  • leen

    what is the climax ??

    • Ian MacEwan

      That IS the climax. What could be more climactic?

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