Water is the most overt symbol in The Miracle Worker. It’s the cornerstone of the play’s most famous scene (and one of the most famous scenes in American theater), in which Annie Sullivan pumps water on Helen Keller’s hands in order to teach her how to communicate via sign language. This scene—and water as it functions in the play more generally—has a strong religious undertone. In Christianity, water is a symbol of life and beginnings (think of a baptism, for instance). It’s apt that water is what inspires Helen Keller to finally understand how to communicate with the external world because in doing so it’s as if she has been born anew, baptized in the waters of truth and knowledge. In this way, water symbolizes the miracle of Helen’s rebirth.
The The Miracle Worker quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. 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: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of The Miracle Worker published in 2008.).
The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in The Miracle Worker. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The lights dim and rise again, signaling that it’s morning. Viney comes outside to pump water. Inside, Helen is wandering around the table, Annie is studying Helen carefully, and Kate tries... (full context)
...blissfully silent—a statement that infuriates Arthur. Annie continues to sit with Helen, spelling the word “water.” Arthur tells James that if he becomes a parent, he’ll know what “separation” means—and one... (full context)
...floor. Wearily, James says, “I 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... (full context)