In The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, what does Keller mean by the expression "the shadows of the prison-house are on the rest"?

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durbanville's profile pic

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

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Helen Keller's biography, The Story of My Life has inspired many people whether in relation to their own personal challenges or the recognition of their "gift" of sight and the unending possibilities of life.

In an effort to explain herself and any potential inconsistencies that may exist in The Story of My Life, Helen explains her "fear" in attempting to lift " the veil that clings about my childhood like a golden mist." (Ch 1) Helen knows that her account reflects her personal feelings and interpretation which is mixed between "fact and fancy" which Helen admits can become indistinct sometimes.

Helen's own "prison-house" is the darkness which literally pervades her life after her illness when she feels confined and even trapped in her existence. Although Helen's story is a happy one and truly inspirational, she cannot overlook the "shadows." Many of Helen's memories are vivid and she is able to recall them without difficulty but there are some, "the rest," which represent this image of the prison. Fortunately, these "dark" moments and other "joys and sorrows of childhood have lost their poignancy.....in the excitement of great discoveries."

Helen Keller was a learned, well-read student and obviously familiar with Wordsworth's poetry (Poem No 99, stanza V) which obviously explains her feelings aptly. Wordsworth was comparing childhood to adulthood and Helen compares her vague memories to her vivid ones.

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jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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When Keller begins to write the story of her childhood as an adult, she observes that she is writing as a woman about what it was like to be a child. She writes that there is a "veil" surrounding the memories of her childhood, like "a golden mist." It is difficult for her to understand and access the memories of her childhood; it is as if they are locked away. By stating that "the shadows of the prison-house are on the rest," Keller expresses the idea that it's difficult for her to recall all the memories of her childhood. It's as if they are in a prison, locked away from her and her memory. Keller uses a vivid and powerful metaphor to express the idea that she can't relate the totality of her childhood, as much of it has been forgotten in the recesses of her mind. 

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