What does the quote, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow," attributed to Helen Keller, mean?

Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The beautiful sunflower is well-known for following the path of the sun. From the east in the morning to the west at night, the sunflower repeats this process each day with the bloom always facing the direction of the sun. 

Helen Keller, left blind and mute after an illness at the age of nineteen months, proves that attitude, and a refusal to accept life in "the shadows of the prison-house," changes insurmountable challenges into awe-inspiring achievement. She wrote The Story of My Life so that she could contribute to society and help others learn from her story which reveals her desperate attempts to communicate and her many failures and confrontations en route to overwhelming success. In The Story of My Life, Helen compares her life, before the discovery, with Annie Sullivan's help, of words like "W-A-T-E-R," to a prison-house from which there is no release. Helen refuses to dwell on the energy-sapping, unfulfilling moments of her life, because she knows only too well, how much easier it would be to allow her disability to overwhelm and define her. She mentions various challenges but chooses to  use them to help her understand her otherwise, "silent, aimless, dayless life." She compares herself to a ship "without compass," before the arrival of Annie Sullivan and recognizes Annie's arrival as "The most important day I remember in all my life."

There is a lot of poetic language attributed to Helen Keller which reveals her in-depth appreciation for life and is especially remarkable as she is able to describe nature, events and people in ways that even sighted people can never hope to strive for. Remaining hopeful and always believing in others and in the power of communication which, "awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free," ensures that she, even in the twenty first century, inspires people. The sunflower grows to an enormous size and shadows from other, equally-huge, sunflowers threaten to reduce the available light. However, the sunflower still "looks" for the sun, refusing to remain in the shadows. Helen Keller, too, has created a legacy and encourages others to always "look" towards the light in attempting to make the best of any situation. The quote, whether Helen's own words or not, aptly describes her philosophy.  

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What this quote this means is that people should be optimistic.  The idea of keeping your face to the sunshine is that you should always look on the bright side of life.  If you do so, Keller is saying, you will not see the "shadows."  That means that you will not see the potential bad things that could happen to you.

If you do this, you will be a happier person.  You will not always be worrying about the potential bad things in life (the "shadows").  Because of this, you will be free to enjoy the good things that happen to you.

uclachilles | Student

This quote very optimistic and has history with the Women's Suffrage movement. It has been attributed to Helen Keller several times, but the American Federation for the Blind has never found it in Keller's publications. It was originally the motto of Edward Gardner Lewis, publisher, entrepreneur, and founder of the American Woman's League and mayor of University City, Missouri (1906-1913). The first evidence is a photograph from May 10, 1910 signed with the motto.