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Even after my illness, I remembered one of the words I had learned in these early months. It was the word “water,” and I continued to make some sound for that word after all other speech was lost. I ceased making the sound “wah-wah” only when I learned to spell the word.

Helen Keller has earned a name for her authorship, political activism, and academic involvement. Her achievements were paved by insuperable hardships, due to her visual and hearing impairments. A prolific author, Keller details her early years and her life-changing training under Anne Sullivan, in The Story of My Life.

Let us now look at the summary of The Story of My Life.

Summary of The Story of My Life

  1. Helen Adam Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama on June 27, 1880. During the Civil War, Keller’s father, Arthur H. Keller had been a captain in the Confederate Army. Keller’s ancestral family owned a large plot with a homestead and a neighboring outhouse. The homestead was called “Ivy Green” because it was an old-fashioned house, covered with English ivy. Helen was quite fond of this house and the family garden. Although Helen enjoyed the fruits of springtime, February turned things bleak. The doctor diagnosed her with “acute congestion of the stomach and brain”. Helen became unconscious, leaving her family in a flurry of emotions and panic. Then, as suddenly as the illness enveloped her, Keller recovered from the fever. However, no one could tell at the time that Helen Keller would be without sight and hearing henceforth.
  2. Progressing slowly, she learned that shaking head meant “no”, and a nod meant “yes”, a pull and push meant “come” and “go”. Helen’s mother helped her understand the world around her. However, the learning process was frustrating. Although Helen learned to communicate in her own way, she could not grapple the differences between her and individuals who could speak, at first. When she moved her mouth, she could not elicit the same effect as her counterparts, which frustrated Helen.
  3. At six, Helen was desperate to express herself. She consulted many doctors and oculists to find remedies. One notable consultation was with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, who was immediately receptive to Helen’s communication method. This sparked a bond between the two that lasted a lifetime. On his advice, Helen’s father wrote to Perkins Institution for a suitable teacher for Helen, and Ms. Sullivan arrived.
  4. In 1887, when Ms. Sullivan came to Helen, she presented a doll made by the children of Perkins Institution. Taking Helen’s hand, she spelled with her finger “D-O-L-L”. Intrigued, Helen began imitating her. Once, Helen and Ms. Sullivan walked to the well house so Helen could feel water running across her hand, as Ms. Sullivan spelled “W-A-T-E-R” into her hand. Helen began exploring objects with her hands, learning their names. Despite Ms. Sullivan’s creativity, learning to read was a laborious and exasperating process. Once, Ms. Sullivan touched her forehead and spelled “T-H-I-N-K”, emphasizing the ongoing process inside her head. Eventually, she gave Helen cards with embossed words, allowing her to feel each alphabet and read the card. She could arrange the cards to make sentences. These years of foundational education were pivotal to Helen’s success.
  5. In 1890, Helen learned to speak. Ms. Sullivan took Helen to Ms. Sarah Fuller, who gave Helen eleven lessons in all. She taught Helen to use her hands to feel the position of the lips and tongue to utter words. Eventually, Helen uttered her first connected phrase, “It is warm.”.
  6. In the winter of 1892, Helen wrote a story called “The Frost King”, for Mr. Anagnos of Perkins Institution, for his birthday. Delighted by her efforts, he published the story in the institution’s report. However, the story resembled “The Frost Fairies” by Margaret T. Canby. Helen was cross-examined in court, with a charge of plagiarism, and was thereafter mortified at the thought writing for quite some time. Helen explains that she must have been read Canby’s story during her childhood, which left an unconscious impression in her mind.
  7. Helen visited the Niagara Falls in March 1893 for the first time. She finds difficulty phrasing the emotions she felt when standing over the American Falls. That summer, she went to the World’s Fair with Alexander Graham Bell and Ms. Sullivan, satiating her curiosity about the unseen world, and opening many doors for her imagination.
  8. Helen studied many subjects including the history of the world and Latin grammar. In 1896, she entered the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, preparing for Radcliffe College. Although her education with Ms. Sullivan helped, inaccessibility to braille texts and the time it took for textbooks to be embossed, stymied her ability to learn. Yet, Cambridge School allowed Helen the chance to mingle with girls her own age. After her examinations, she entered Radcliffe in the Fall, 1900.
  9. Helen realized that college was not as romantic as she had imagined it. She did not have time to think and process the way she could before. Of her learning material in college, she writes “the overtaxed mind cannot enjoy the treasure it has secured at the greatest cost.”
  10. Books taught Helen the world. She was influenced by the likes of Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Scarlet Letter, and Robinson Crusoe. She also read Shakespeare’s Macbeth and King Lear, enjoyed Goethe’s Faust, and Molière and Racine.Besides reading, Helen Keller found amusement in nature and outdoor activities. She would often explore the gardens and the trees. She enjoyed canoeing in the moonlight, tobogganing in the winter time, and cycling.
  11. There were several influential people in Helen Keller’s life. Bishop Brooks offered spiritual guidance, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, whom she impressed with a recitation of Tennyson’s poem, Break, Break, Break. Through her influential friends, Helen was also introduced to other literary leaders, including William Dean Howells and Mark Twain.

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