Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
The Story of My Life is an account of the early years of a woman who overcame incredible problems to become an accomplished, literate adult. The book does not give a complete account of the author’s life, as it was written when she was still a college student. It is, however, a unique account of one young woman’s passage from almost total despair to success in a world mostly populated by hearing and seeing people. This book is relatively short, but the modern editions also include letters written by and to Helen Keller and an analysis of her education from a later standpoint.
The Story of My Life begins with Keller’s vague memories of early childhood. She was born in 1880 in Alabama, an apparently normal child. According to her recollections, she began to speak before she was a year old. The early chapters recount the little girl’s love of the natural world, a theme that is repeated many times throughout the work, and her generally happy home life, with loving and nurturing parents.
At the age of nineteen months, however, Keller was stricken with an unexplained disease—certainly unexplained in the nineteenth century, with no suggestion in the book of any later diagnosis—which left her both blind and deaf. She became a domineering child, with behavior that was totally unacceptable. Keller mainly lays the blame for this behavior upon her frustration at the futility of trying to communicate her thoughts and feelings...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
When The Story of My Life was written in 1902, many female authors were still using male pseudonyms in an attempt to give their work some credence in a literary world dominated by men. It would be almost twenty years before women were given the right to vote and a much longer period before they made any real impact on the political and literary scenes.
Decades later, Helen Keller would be considered one of the great social leaders of the time, and her earlier works would be considered inspirational to women and to society in general. Keller’s social work was primarily aimed at helping people with assorted disabilities, but not necessarily physical ones. She took upon herself the task of improving society in general, regardless of sex, race, nationality, or social standing. The Story of My Life cannot be considered “feminist” in any real sense, as the author at that time of her life had problems considerably more difficult to overcome than merely being a woman in a male-dominated society. In a broader context, however, this book has been inspirational to people faced with difficulties that must be overcome—physical, emotional, or societal.
Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)
At the beginning of The Story of My Life, Helen Keller acknowledges the difficulty of writing an autobiography because “fact and fancy now look alike across the years that link the past and present.” As a result, she has attempted to present only those episodes from her life that seem either especially interesting or important. Although Keller presents her life chronologically, she focuses more on her feelings than on factual details.
The book begins with Keller’s birth in Tuscumbia, Alabama, on June 27, 1880. Keller provides information about her parents and family and then describes her first nineteen months, when she could both see and hear. Chapters 2 and 3, while presenting the events of her childhood, do more than merely recount her frequent mischief by centering on Keller’s intense desire to communicate, as well as on her frustrations. The most famous event of Keller’s life, when Anne Sullivan taught her how to communicate, is presented rather briefly in chapter 4. The succeeding chapters, however, grow out of this important incident and focus on other moments that shaped her. She learned about the joys and dangers of nature, abstract concepts and words such as “love,” and the characteristics of winter. Eventually, she moved away from her sheltered home in Alabama, experiencing new places such as Boston, Niagara Falls, and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as important events such as the inauguration of President Grover Cleveland...
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Bibliography (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Boylan, Esther, ed. Women and Disability. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Zed Books, 1991. A series of articles on the situation of disabled women in the world. This book places emphasis on the concept that women have a “double handicap” by being female as well as disabled.
Brooks, Van Wyck. Helen Keller: Sketch for a Portrait. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1956. A biography of Keller covering her early years, her later development as an adult author and activist, and her continuing relationship with Anne Sullivan Macy, her teacher from early childhood.
Hillyer, Barbara. Feminism and Disability. Norman:...
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