In The Story of My Life, was Helen Keller childhood friends with Martha Washington and Martha's dog Belle?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Chapter II of Helen Keller's autobiography titled The Story of My Life, we learn a great deal about what Helen was like at the age of five, after her illness at the age of approximately a year and a half left her blind, deaf, and dumb. We learn that she used to cling to her mother's skirts, following her around as her mother did household chores. We are also told she learned how to fold and put away clean clothes and even to recognize her own clothes. Helen also states that she knew she was "different from other people" even before her teacher Anne Sullivan arrived. She particularly recognized her differences when she felt peoples' lips moving when they were in conversations with each other.

Beyond the above, we also learn that Martha Washington and Martha's dog named Belle were Helen's "constant companions." Martha was an African-American girl and daughter of the Kellers' cook. Helen describes that she and Martha spent most of their time together in the kitchen helping with making dough balls, ice cream, coffee, and feeding the chickens and turkeys. But most interesting is Helen's point that she spent time with Martha both because Martha could understand her signs and because Helen was able control her, to use Martha to get what she wanted, as we see Helen explain in the following passage:

Martha Washington understood my signs, and I seldom had any difficulties in making her do just as I wished. It pleased me to domineer over her, and she generally submitted to my tyranny rather than risk a hand-to-hand encounter. I was strong, active, indifferent to consequences. I knew my own mind well enough and always had my own way, even if I had to fight tooth and nail to get it.

From the above, we learn that Helen was quite selfish and even a bit of a bully in those days, all because she was still incapable of learning morals and principles to guide her understanding of right and wrong and of how the world works.

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