How does Keller respond when Sullivan first introduces the word love?

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In chapter IV of Helen Keller's The Story of my Life, Helen narrates how her teacher, Anne Sullivan, had tried to introduce to Helen the concept of "love". This is significant, since a hearing impaired and visually impaired student, like Helen says, cannot learn a simple concept in a short time. The words, their meaning, their connections, and their application to everyday life are a constant process. A concept as complex, intrinsic, and unique as "love" is certainly one that would take the most time to understand.

At first, Helen cannot even come close to understanding the concept. She could not make a connection, partially because she only feels something close enough to love for only one thing, which is her doll, Nancy. However, Mrs. Sullivan attempts over and over to convey enough descriptors that would appeal to Helen's accentuated senses in order to bring about the understanding.

In her candid style, Keller narrates her experience understanding the word "love" as follows:

I remember the morning that I first asked the meaning of the word, "love." This was before I knew many words. I had found a few early violets in the garden and brought them to my teacher. She tried to kiss me: but at that time I did not like to have any one kiss me except my mother. Miss Sullivan put her arm gently round me and spelled into my hand, "I love Helen."

"What is love?" I asked.

She drew me closer to her and said, "It is here," pointing to my heart, whose beats I was conscious of for the first time. Her words puzzled me very much because I did not then understand anything unless I touched it.

Therefore, it is almost impossible to bring Helen to understand an emotion that she has never felt. It is also noticeable that Helen could have never learned it easily because she would not allow Anne Sullivan to touch her, nor kiss her. Hence, when the emotion cannot be experienced, it could never be understood.

I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words, half in signs, a question which meant, "Is love the sweetness of flowers?"

"No," said my teacher.

Again I thought. The warm sun was shining on us.

"Is this not love?" I asked, pointing in the direction from which the heat came. "Is this not love?"

It seemed to me that there could be nothing more beautiful than the sun, whose warmth makes all things grow. But Miss Sullivan shook her head, and I was greatly puzzled and disappointed. I thought it strange that my teacher could not show me love.

This passage of the book holds a wealth of significance. It shows us how Helen depends 100% on Anne. This is an indicator that she has made a deep connection to this woman who is otherwise a stranger  to her, at first. Moreover, it demonstrates the overwhelming power that Anne has over Helen and how she uses this power so positively that it brings about the miracle of Helen being able to learn to read and write, and teach.

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