The Miracle Worker, Act Two
It is evening.
The only room visible in the KELLER house is ANNIEíS, where by lamplight ANNIE in a shawl is at a desk writing a letter; at her bureau HELEN in her customary unkempt state is tucking her doll in the bottom drawer as a cradle, the contents of which she has dumped out, creating as usual a fine disorder.
ANNIE mutters each word as she writes her letter, slowly, her eyes close to and almost touching the page, to follow with difficulty her penwork.
Annie. ď. . . and, nobody, here, has, attempted, to, control, her. The, greatest, problem, I, have, is, how, to, discipline, her, without, breaking, her, spirit.Ē (Resolute voice) ďBut, I, shall, insist, on, reasonable, obedience, from, the, startóĒ (At which point HELEN, groping about on the desk, knocks over the inkwell. ANNIE jumps up, rescues her letter, rights the inkwell, grabs a towel to stem the spillage, and then wipes at HELENíS hands; HELEN as always pulls free, but not until ANNIE first gets three letters into her palm.) Ink. (HELEN is enough interested in and puzzled by this spelling that she proffers her hand again, so ANNIE spells and impassively dunks it back in the spillage.) Ink. It has a name. (She wipes the hand clean and leads HELEN to her bureau, where she looks for something to engage her. She finds a sewing card, with needle and thread, and going to her knees, shows HELENíS hand how to connect one row of holes.) Down. Under. Up. And be careful of the needleó(HELEN gets it, and ANNIE rises.) Fine. You keep out of the ink and perhaps I can keep out ofóthe soup. (She returns to the desk, tidies it, and resumes writing her letter, bent close to the page.) ďThese, blots, are, her, handiwork. IóĒ (She is interrupted by a gasp: HELEN has stuck her finger and sits sucking at it, darkly. Then with vengeful resolve she seizes her doll and is about to dash its brains out on the floor when ANNIE, diving, catches it in one hand, which she at once shakes with hopping pain but otherwise ignores, patiently.) All right, letís try temperance. (Taking the doll, she kneels, goes through the motion of knocking its head on the floor, spells into HELENíS hand.) Bad, girl. (She lets HELEN feel the grieved expression on her face. HELEN imitates it. Next she makes HELEN caress the doll and kiss the hurt spot and hold it gently in her arms, then spells into her hand.) Good, girl. (She lets HELEN feel the smile on her face. HELEN sits with a scowl, which suddenly clears; she pats the doll, kisses it, wreathes her face in a large artificial smile, and bears the doll to the washstand, where she carefully sits it. ANNIE watches, pleased.) Very good girl
[Whereupon HELEN elevates the pitcher and dashes it on the floor instead. ANNIE leaps to her feet and stands inarticulate; HELEN calmly gropes back to the sewing card and needle.
ANNIE manages to achieve self-control. She picks up a fragment or two of the pitcher, sees HELEN is puzzling over the card, and resolutely kneels to demonstrate it again. She spells into HELENíS hand.
KATE meanwhile coming around the corner with folded sheets on her arm, halts at the doorway and watches them for a moment in silence; she is moved, but level.]
Kate (presently). What are you saying to her?
[ANNIE glancing up is a bit embarrassed and rises from the spelling, to find her company manners.]
Annie. Oh, I was just making conversation. Saying it was a sewing card.
Kate. But does tható(She imitates with her fingers.)ómean that to her?
Annie. No. No, she wonít know what spelling is till she knows what a word is.
Kate. Yet you keep spelling to her. Why?
Annie (cheerily). I like to hear myself talk!
Kate. The Captain says itís like spelling to the fence post.
Annie (a pause). Does he, now.
Kate. Is it?
Annie. No, itís how I watch you talk to Mildred.
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. Iím letting Helen hear it.
Kate. Other children are notóimpaired.
Annie. Ho, thereís nothing impaired in that head. It works like a mousetrap!
Kate (smiles). But after a child hears how many words, Miss Annie, a million?
Annie. I guess no motherís ever minded enough to count.
[She drops her eyes to spell into HELENíS hand, again indicating the card; HELEN spells back, and ANNIE is amused.]
Kate (too quickly). What did she spell?
Annie. I spelled card. She spelled cake! (She takes in KATEíS quickness and shakes her head, gently.) No, itís only a finger game to her, Mrs. Keller. What she has to learn first is that things have names.
Kate. And when will she learn?
Annie. Maybe after a million and one words.
[They hold each otherís gaze; KATE then speaks quietly.]
Kate. I should like to learn those letters, Miss Annie.
Annie (pleased). Iíll teach you tomorrow morning. That makes only half a million each!
Kate (then). Itís her bedtime. (ANNIE reaches for the sewing card, HELEN objects, ANNIE insists, and HELEN gets rid of ANNIEíS hand by jabbing it with the needle. ANNIE gasps and moves to grip HELENíS wrist; but KATE intervenes with a proffered sweet, and HELEN drops the card, crams the sweet into her mouth, and scrambles up to search her motherís hands for more. ANNIE nurses her wound, staring after the sweet.) Iím sorry, Miss Annie.
Annie (indignantly). Why does she get a reward? For stabbing me?
Kate. Welló(Then, tiredly) We catch our flies with honey, Iím afraid. We havenít the heart for much else, and so many times she simply cannot be compelled.
Annie (ominous). Yes. Iím the same way myself. (KATE smiles and leads HELEN off around the corner. ANNIE alone in her room picks up things and in the act of removing HELENíS doll gives way to unmannerly temptation: She throttles it. She drops it on her bed and stands pondering. Then she turns back, sits decisively, and writes again, as the lights dim on her. Grimly:) ďThe, more, I, think, the, more, certain, I, am, that, obedience, is, the, gateway, through, which, knowledge, enters, the, mind, of, the, childóĒ
On the word obedience a shaft of sunlight hits the water pump outside, while ANNIEíS voice ends in the dark, followed by a distant cockcrow; daylight comes up over another corner of the sky, with VINEYíS voice heard at once.
Viney. Breakfast ready!
[VINEY comes down into the sunlight beam and pumps a pitcherful of water. While the pitcher is brimming we hear conversation from the dark; the light grows to the family room of the house where all are either entering or already seated at breakfast, with KELLER and JAMES arguing the
war. HELEN is wandering around the table to explore the contents of the other plates. When ANNIE is in her chair, she watches HELEN. VINEY reenters, sets the pitcher on the table; KATE lifts the almost empty biscuit plate with an inquiring look, VINEY nods and bears it off back, neither of them interrupting the men. ANNIE meanwhile sits with fork quiet, watching HELEN, who at her motherís plate pokes her hand among some scrambled eggs. KATE catches ANNIEíS eyes on her, smiles with a wry gesture. HELEN moves on to JAMESíS plate, the male talk continuing, JAMES deferential and KELLER overriding.]
James. óno, but shouldnít we give the devil his due, Father? The fact is we lost the South two years earlier when he outthought us behind Vicksburg.
Keller. Outthought is a peculiar word for a butcher.
James. Harness maker, wasnít he?
Keller. I said butcher, his only virtue as a soldier was numbers and he led them to slaughter with no more regard than for so many sheep.
James. But even if in that sense he was a butcher, the fact is heó
Keller. And a drunken one, half the war.
James. Agreed, Father. If his own people said he was I canít argue heó
Keller. Well, what is it you find to admire in such a man, Jimmie, the butchery or the drunkenness?
James. Neither, Father, only the fact that he beat us.
Keller. He didnít.
James. Is it your contention we won the war, sir?
Keller. He didnít beat us at Vicksburg. We lost Vicksburg because Pemberton gave Bragg five thousand of his cavalry, and Loring, whom I knew personally for a nincompoop before you were born, marched away from Championís Hill with enough men to have held them. We lost Vicksburg by stupidity verging on treason.
James. I would have said we lost Vicksburg because Grant was one thing no Yankee general was before himó
Keller. Drunk? I doubt it.
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