In Chapter 1, Keller recounts the story of her birth in 1880 in Alabama and gives an account of her family's genealogy. She also recalls her memories of her childhood before her illness, and at the end of the chapter, she gives an account of the illness at age 18 months that resulted in her blindness and deafness. In Chapter 2, she speaks about what happened before her teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to her house and recounts her childhood adventures with her friend Martha Washington, the daughter of the cook, and her dog. Keller often played tricks, such as locking her mother in the pantry.
In Chapter 3, Keller's parents take her for treatment to an oculist in Baltimore, who then sends the family to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell in Washington, D.C. Dr. Bell suggests that they contact the Perkins Institute for blind people in Boston. In Chapter 4, Anne Sullivan, Keller's teacher, arrives at Keller's house from the Perkins Institute, and Keller describes how Sullivan begins to teach her words that she spells on Keller's hand. In Chapter 5, Keller continues to experience a wider world under Sullivan's tutelage, and she climbs up a tree in which she is caught during a storm, thereby learning about the occasional cruelty of nature.