Please give a character sketch of Annie Sullivan from The Story of My Life.

Annie Sullivan is Helen Keller's kind, patient teacher and companion, and she is integral in teaching Helen how to communicate. Sullivan had previously been blind before a successful operation repaired her vision, and she moved to Alabama to use her experience and understanding to help Helen. Helen describes the day she met Sullivan as the most important of her life. 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Miss Annie Sullivan was Helen Keller's teacher, friend, and companion. Without Miss Sullivan, Helen may never have learned how to communicate effectively. Helen described the incredible impact Miss Sullivan had on her life:

The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the two lives which it connects (The Story of My Life, IV).

Miss Sullivan had been blind, but had an operation to repair her sight. She attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind, and was recommended by Mr. Anagnos to help Helen Keller. Miss Sullivan moved to Alabama to become Helen's teacher. Helen was stubborn and mischievous, but Miss Sullivan never gave up. One day, Helen even locked Miss Sullivan in her room and hid the key.

Miss Sullivan spelled words into Helen's hands over and over again, but the child did not understand. One day, Miss Sullivan held Helen's hand under a waterspout. As the cool liquid fell into the young girl's palm, Miss Sullivan spelled "w-a-t-e-r" into her hand. Helen finally made the connection between the word and the water. With Miss Sullivan's help, Helen learned to communicate through finger spelling. She also taught her young pupil to read and write.

When Helen left home to go to school and later college, Miss Sullivan went with her. Together, they also traveled to many places, such as New York City, Boston, and Halifax. Miss Sullivan and Helen both shared a love of nature and of learning.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Annie Sullivan is so instrumental in Helen Keller's life and her extraordinary progress, to the point that Helen recalls in The Story of My Life that Miss Sullivan is "so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her." (ch 7) It is Miss Sullivan who teaches Helen in a style that suits her so that Helen enjoys learning "making every subject so real that I could not help remembering what she taught."(ch 7) Annie knows how to ensure that Helen reaches her potential. She even makes maps out of clay so that Helen can feel contours and details.

The book "Little Lord Fauntleroy" becomes one of Helen's favorites, introduced to her by Miss Sullivan who explains the words she knows Helen will struggle with, until she can understand. This requires enormous patience from Miss Sullivan as she "spells" the words into Helen's hand. Even as Helen attends college and others sometimes try to help with the spelling of the words ,"There was only one hand that could turn drudgery into pleasure."(ch 18) Annie Sullivan's dedication is unquestionable and unmatched. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial