Please explain how Helen Keller became familiar with abstract ideas like love, in The Story of My Life?

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teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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 After Miss Sullivan arrives and Helen makes the connection between the word water spelled into her hand and the water gushing from a pump, joy and a curiosity to know everything about the world overtakes her. One day, not long after, Miss Sullivan writes into Helen's hand "I love Helen." Helen asks what it means but can't understand her teacher's initial explanation that love is what beats in her heart. Helen persists, however, in trying to puzzle through the concept, asking Miss Sullivan repeated questions to try to determine what love could be. Love, she learns, is not the scent of violets or the warmth of the sun. Finally, as she is sorting beads one day, Miss Sullivan conveys to her that love is not something concrete that you can touch or smell, but the abstract happiness one experiences at the good things in the world. Keller explains it as follows:

"You cannot touch the clouds, you know [says Miss Sullivan]; but you feel the rain and know how glad the flowers and the thirsty earth are to have it after a hot day. You cannot touch love either; but you feel the sweetness that it pours into everything. Without love you would not be happy or want to play."

The beautiful truth burst upon my mind—I felt that there were invisible lines stretched between my spirit and the spirits of others.

Helen learns what love is through her entire encounter with Miss Sullivan—a woman with great kindness and patience—so much so that she characterizes her teacher's arrival as the moment when love burst into her life. She writes her book, in part, as an appreciation of her teacher. 

durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Helen Keller wrote The Story of My Life because she knew how privileged she was to have had so many opportunities and wanted to share her story as a means to inspire others so that they, too, can make the most of any possibilities. 

For Helen, "the most important day I remember in all my life"(ch 4) comes when Annie Sullivan arrives. Education is key in everything Helen does to the point that she learns "from life itself"(ch 7) and Miss Sullivan's informal methods and ability to teach Helen in any circumstances mean that she is able to grasp many concepts. It takes quite some effort to reveal the meaning of words and "the mystery of language" and Helen struggles to make the connection but once she experiences her "soul's sudden awakening" (ch 5) and makes the connection between water and "the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand" (ch 4), nothing can stop her. 

Abstract ideas require real patience on the part of Miss Sullivan as she strives to make Helen understand. She repeats many processes but still Helen struggles to understand such a concept as love. It is during an exercise, threading beads, when Miss Sullivan indicates to Helen that she must "think" (ch 6) that Helen realises that abstract ideas exist and shortly afterwards "the beautiful truth burst upon my mind" (ch 6) and "love" and its meaning become a reality for Helen. 

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