The Miracle Worker

by

William Gibson

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Annie Sullivan Character Analysis

Annie Sullivan is the “miracle worker” of the play’s title, and the play’s protagonist. A Massachusetts “Yankee,” as several of the Kellers like to call her, Annie grew up blind in a squalid almshouse with her younger brother, James Sullivan. James (or “Jimmie”) died at the almshouse, and Annie appears to feel personally responsible for the death of her beloved brother. Later, Annie attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where she learned how to read and write, and eventually received surgery to help her regain her sight. She seems to be attracted to teaching, not just because she’s benefitted from education personally but because she continues to feel guilty for James’s death. In a way, taking care of children is her way of atoning for having “abandoned” James as a child. Annie tries to teach Helen Keller how to communicate by introducing her to sign language. Annie is shown to be a highly capable teacher—not so much because she’s a genius, but because she’s persistent and has a personal stake in helping her pupils succeed. In the end, Annie succeeds in teaching Helen the concept of meaning—that is, the relationship between words in sign language and the things they represent. In doing so, it’s implied, Annie not only triumphs where many other doctors have failed—she also comes to terms with her own traumatic past.

Annie Sullivan Quotes in The Miracle Worker

The The Miracle Worker quotes below are all either spoken by Annie Sullivan or refer to Annie Sullivan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Communication Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of The Miracle Worker published in 2008.
Act 1 Quotes

ANAGNOS: Deaf blind, mute—who knows? She is like a little safe, locked, that no one can open. Perhaps there is a treasure inside.

Related Characters: Anagnos (speaker), Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller
Related Symbols: Sight and blindness
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

BOY’S VOICE [in terror]: Annie! Annie, don't let them take me-Annie!

Related Characters: James Sullivan / “Jimmie” (speaker), Annie Sullivan
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

ANNIE: I have three big advantages over Dr. Howe that money couldn't buy for you. One is his work behind me, I've read every word he wrote about it and he wasn't exactly what you'd call a man of few words. Another is to be young, why, I've got energy to do anything. The third is, I've been blind.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Helen Keller, Dr. Howe
Related Symbols: Sight and blindness
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

KELLER: Here’s a houseful of grownups can't cope with the child, how can an inexperienced half-blind Yankee schoolgirl manage her?

Related Characters: Captain Arthur Keller (speaker), Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller
Related Symbols: Sight and blindness
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

ANNIE: All right, Miss O'Sullivan. Let's begin with doll.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Helen Keller
Related Symbols: Dolls
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

JAMES: Spell, she doesn't know the thing has a name, even.

Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

ANNIE: You think I'm so easily gotten rid of? You have a thing or two to learn, first. I have nothing else to do.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Helen Keller
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2 Quotes

ANNIE: Any baby. Gibberish, grown-up gibberish, baby-talk gibberish, do they understand one word of it to start? Somehow they begin to. If they hear it, I'm letting Helen hear it.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Helen Keller, Kate Keller
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

KATE: Miss Annie. You see, she's accustomed to helping herself from our plates to anything she—
ANNIE [Evenly]: Yes, but, I'm not accustomed to it.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Kate Keller (speaker), Helen Keller
Page Number: 47-48
Explanation and Analysis:

BOY’S VOICE: You ain't goin' to school, are you, Annie?
ANNIE [whispering]: When I grow up.
BOY’S VOICE: You ain't either, Annie. You're goin' to stay here take care of me.
ANNIE: I'm goin' to school when I grow up.
BOY’S VOICE: You said we'll be together, forever and ever and ever–
ANNIE [fierce]; I'm goin' to school when I grow up!

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), James Sullivan / “Jimmie” (speaker), Helen Keller
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

ANNIE: Mrs. Keller, I don't think Helen's worst handicap is deafness or blindness. I think it's your love. And pity.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Helen Keller, Kate Keller
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

ANNIE: The first year we had eighty, seventy died. The room Jimmie and I played in was the deadhouse, where they kept the bodies till they could dig—
KATE [closes her eyes]: Oh, my dear—
ANNIE: —the graves.
(She is immune to KATE's compassion.)
No, it made me strong. But I don't think you need send Helen there. She's strong enough.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Kate Keller (speaker), James Sullivan / “Jimmie” (speaker), Helen Keller
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

JAMES: That she isn't. That there's such a thing as-dullness of heart. Acceptance. And letting go. Sooner or later we all give up, don't we?
ANNIE: Maybe you all do. It’s my idea of the original sin.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), James Keller (speaker), Helen Keller
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3 Quotes

ANNIE: Yes, what's it to me? They're satisfied. Give them back their child and dog, both housebroken, everyone's satisfied. But me, and you.

Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

JAMES: She's right, Kate's right, I'm right, and you're wrong. If you drive her away from here it will be over my dead-chair, has it never occurred to you that on one occasion you might be consummately wrong?

Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

ANNIE: I, love, Helen.
(She clutches the child to her, tight this time, not spelling, whispering into her hair.)
Forever, and—
(She stops. The lights over the pump are taking on the color of the past, and it brings ANNIE’s head up, her eyes opening in fear; and as slowly as though drawn she rises, to listen, with her hand on HELEN’s shoulders. She waits, waits, listening with ears and eyes both, slowly here, slowly there: and hears only silence. There are no voices. The color passes on, and when her eyes come back to HELEN she can breathe the end of her phrase without fear:)
—ever.

Related Characters: Annie Sullivan (speaker), Helen Keller
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Miracle Worker LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Miracle Worker PDF

Annie Sullivan Character Timeline in The Miracle Worker

The timeline below shows where the character Annie Sullivan appears in The Miracle Worker. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1
Communication Theme Icon
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
...to the Keller family to inquire if they have any need for a “suitable governess,” Annie Sullivan from Boston. (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
The lights go up, revealing a room full of equipment designed for teaching the blind. Annie Sullivan, aged twenty, is sitting with her eyes closed. Anagnos addresses Annie, explaining that Annie’s... (full context)
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Annie asks Anagnos to describe the child she’s being sent to teach. Anagnos replies that nobody... (full context)
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Anagnos reviews Annie’s new situation with her. She is now a graduate of the Perkins School. She will... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
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...the door and ushers in a group of blind children, who announce that they’ve bought Annie a going-away gift: a pair of smoked glasses (i.e., tinted glasses). One of the children... (full context)
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Anagnos shepherds the children out of the room. As Annie thinks back on her past, two echoing voices can be heard. They belong to the... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
...downstairs, where he notices that James is dressed nicely. James explains that he’s dressing for Annie Sullivan, who’s due to arrive today. Kate greets Arthur and tells him that she’s headed... (full context)
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
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The lights dim, revealing Annie Sullivan standing outside a railroad station, where James and Kate are waiting. James greets her... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
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Annie, recognizing that Kate looks dismayed, tries to “take the bull by the horns.” She admits... (full context)
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The lights dim, and when they rise, Annie, James, and Kate are coming back to the house. Arthur Keller greets Annie politely, just... (full context)
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Annie hesitates, and then follows Helen, “entering her world.” She crouches down and, gently, touches Helen’s... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
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As Annie meets Helen, Arthur and Kate talk about Annie. Kate likes her, but Arthur finds her... (full context)
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Meanwhile, in her room, Annie gives Helen a key. Helen uses the key to open the suitcase. She finds a... (full context)
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Annie takes Helen’s hand and gently manipulates the fingers, spelling out “D-O-L-L” in sign language. James,... (full context)
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Alone with Helen, Annie produces a piece of cake from her suitcase, and holds it under Helen’s nose. Then,... (full context)
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Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
Annie shows Helen the doll again, prompting Helen to spell its name. Helen does so, and... (full context)
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James hears Annie’s yelling, but instead of unlocking the door, goes out to the porch and sings mockingly... (full context)
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The lights dim, and echoing voices can now be heard. A boy moans, “Annie, it hurts,” and a harsh-sounding elder woman’s voice shouts, “shut up!” The boy whispers, “You... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
...Arthur Keller for supper. James calls out to his father, and when Kate asks where Annie is, James replies, very pleasantly, “In her room.” He explains that Helen locked her in... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
...realizing that Kate will never find the key, takes the ladder and climbs up to Annie’s room, telling her that he’ll have to carry her down. Annie agrees, trying to look... (full context)
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
Annie notices Helen sitting by the pump, oblivious to the chaos around her. The lights dim,... (full context)
Act 2
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It is late evening, and Annie’s bedroom is the only room in the Keller house with the light on. Helen stands... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
Helen knocks over Annie’s inkwell. Annie immediately takes the inkwell and saves her letter, mopping up the spillage. Then,... (full context)
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Kate passes by the doorway and sees what Annie is doing. Annie explains that she’s teaching Helen to spell—even though Helen doesn’t even know... (full context)
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
Just then, Annie reaches for the sewing card. Helen takes the needle and pokes Annie’s finger with it.... (full context)
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...it’s morning. Viney comes outside to pump water. Inside, Helen is wandering around the table, Annie is studying Helen carefully, and Kate tries to eat her eggs while Helen pokes at... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
Learning and Teaching Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
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Arthur and Kate explain to Annie that Helen is “accustomed to helping herself from our plates.” Annie retorts, “but I’m not... (full context)
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Furiously, Arthur asks Kate to come outside and talk with him. James leaves also, leaving Annie and Helen alone. While Annie and Helen struggle, Arthur tells Kate that he’s on the... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Annie clears everyone’s plates off of the table except for Helen’s and her own. She guides... (full context)
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Helen wanders toward Kate’s chair, touching it with her hand. Annie goes over to Helen and tries to spell on Helen’s hand. But Helen pushes away... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
Pity vs. Tough Love Theme Icon
...When she’s eaten all her food, Helen holds out her plate for more. In response, Annie takes a spoon and tries to place it in Helen’s hand, even as Helen resists.... (full context)
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Just then, Helen and Annie emerge from the house. They both look exhausted. Triumphantly, Annie announces that Helen ate from... (full context)
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Upstairs, Annie opens her suitcase and finds a battered copy of her “Perkins report.” A man’s voice... (full context)
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Suddenly, a boy’s voice asks, “Annie, what’s that noise?” Annie replies, that somebody is pushing a cot to “the deadhouse.” Jimmie... (full context)
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Annie gets to her feet and begins putting things in her suitcase. Meanwhile, in the garden... (full context)
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Annie, having packed her suitcase, walks down to the garden house. There, Arthur informs Annie that... (full context)
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Annie tells the Kellers that Helen’s worst handicap isn’t deafness or blindness—it’s her own parents’ spoiling... (full context)
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Annie tells Kate and Arthur about her own childhood. She grew up in “the state almshouse,”... (full context)
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Annie suggests that she and Helen live in the garden house, with Percy to help them... (full context)
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Alone in the garden house, Annie takes Kate’s hand and shows her the alphabet. The lights dim while, slowly, the characters... (full context)
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...two hours, meaning that, for all Helen knows, she’s far away from home. Kate begs Annie, “Please be good to her.” Annie promises she will. (full context)
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The Kellers leave Annie and Helen alone, and Helen begins banging around the garden house. She finds her doll... (full context)
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Meanwhile, in the house, James Keller mockingly asks Kate, how Annie manages to get everything she wants out of Kate. Furious, Arthur twists James’s arm, demanding... (full context)
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Alone, Kate tells Arthur she’s proud of him for letting Annie have control over Helen. Arthur wonders aloud why James, his own son, can’t stand him.... (full context)
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Annie, now in bed in the garden house, is wide-awake. Voices fill the stage. The young... (full context)
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Annie tells Percy to touch Helen’s hand. He does so, and Helen, delighted, emerges from under... (full context)
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Alone, Annie sits in a rocking chair with Helen’s doll. Happy with herself, she begins singing a... (full context)
Act 3
Communication Theme Icon
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The stage is dark as Annie and Helen sit in bed in the garden house. Annie teaches Helen how to spell... (full context)
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...nervous, but James says that the house has been blissfully silent—a statement that infuriates Arthur. Annie continues to sit with Helen, spelling the word “water.” Arthur tells James that if he... (full context)
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Meanwhile, in the garden house, Annie, not wearing her smoked glasses, writes that she feels deeply “undisciplined” as she teaches Helen.... (full context)
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Just then, Kate enters the garden house and inquires what Annie is doing. Annie quickly puts her glasses on again and explains, “Whatever I spell to... (full context)
Communication Theme Icon
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...the garden house. He explains that he’s brought Helen a “playmate,” a dog named Belle. Annie reminds him that her two weeks with Helen aren’t yet complete—she has until 6pm. Arthur... (full context)
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Alone with Helen, Annie spells out “D-O-G” and then touches Helens hand to Belle. Then, she gets a tumbler... (full context)
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...the bell tolls six, James, Viney, Percy, and Martha enter the garden house and remove Annie and Helen’s things, bringing them back to the house. James takes Annie’s suitcase, and studies... (full context)
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Kate comes to the garden house. Annie, seeing Kate, touches Helen’s hand to Kate’s cheek and spells, “mother.” Kate, impatient, cries out,... (full context)
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Now alone in the garden house, Annie hears a boy’s voice saying, “You said we’d be together, forever and ever.” These words... (full context)
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Just then, Arthur Keller enters the garden house and gives Annie her first months’ salary. He thanks Annie for changing Helen from a “wild thing” into... (full context)
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At the supper table, Helen throws her napkin to the floor. Annie puts the napkin back on Helen’s lap, and when Helen throws it away again, Annie... (full context)
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...think we’ve started all over.” Helen finds a pitcher of water and swings it in Annie’s direction, getting water all over Annie’s dress. Annie stands up and carries Helen out of... (full context)
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Outside, Annie leads Helen to the water pump, still holding the pitcher. She touches Helen’s hand to... (full context)
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Helen seems suddenly excited. She touches the earth and then holds out her hand expectantly—Annie spells “ground.” She does the same with the pump, the steps of the porch, and... (full context)
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Helen turns to Annie and grasps Annie’s thigh. Annie makes the sign for “teacher” and Helen repeats it back... (full context)
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Annie takes Helen’s hand and spells out, “I love Helen … forever and ever.” The lights... (full context)