The Story of My Life by Helen Keller traces the struggles and triumphs that Helen faces and overcomes after being left blind and deaf from an illness at the age of nineteen months.
Chapter 1: Helen discusses her heritage and the origins of her family: her father, Captain Keller, and his young second wife, previously Kate Adams, who is Helen's mother. Before the illness Helen is like any other child and "I came, I saw, I conquered." Her home is the "paradise of my childhood" and the garden provides the relief Helen needs from her frustrations as a young blind and deaf child.
Chapter 2: Helen discusses her relationship with her family. Her mother is "all that was bright and good in my long night" and her father is indulgent and loving. He is a newspaper editor, although Helen admits that at the time she cannot fathom what he does. Helen is proud of her ability by age five to fold the laundry and complete simple chores and it is apparent that she is an independent child. One time, she almost sets herself on fire and her friend Martha suffers Helen's stubbornness especially because Helen is "strong, active, indifferent to consequence." It is Helen's mother who always intervenes to prevent any major catastrophes, such as the time Helen cuts Martha's hair or when she tries to tip her baby sister out of the cot that Helen reserves for Nancy, her doll.
Chapter 3: Helen is aware of an increasing need to communicate and her efforts often result in temper tantrums. Her parents take her to a specialist which leads to her meeting with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell whose "interview would be the door through which I should pass from darkness into light." This results in Miss Sullivan's subsequent arrival in March of the following year.
Chapter 4: Helen considers "the most important day I remember in all my life" to be the day Annie Sullivan arrives. Annie immediately sets about teaching Helen "language" by signing on her hand. Eventually, Helen makes sense of it all and the touch and feel of "W-A-T-E-R" changes Helen's life as it "awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!"
Chapter 5: Helen becomes excited about so many things and feels her "soul's sudden awakening" as she discovers the beautiful things in nature but also its unpredictability. She uses very poetic language to describe a traumatic experience when she was stuck in a tree during a storm. It takes her a long time to regain the courage to climb another tree.
Chapter 6: Helen now has "the key to language" but the process of learning is slow. Abstract concepts such as love are very difficult to grasp but with Annie's patience, Helen does come to understand and "the beautiful truth burst upon my mind." Although Annie treats Helen like any other child, it does take years for Helen to attain mastery of language.
Chapter 7: Whilst still mastering language, Helen learns to read. Her lessons are inspiring and Annie makes them "so real;" all except Arithmetic which Helen does not like. Annie uses real-life situations to help Helen learn about fossils, plants, tadpoles and shells, to name a few. In fact, Helen "learned from life itself." During this time, she grows very close to Annie.
Chapter 8: Helen remembers events like Christmas and her canary but it is not long before the cat gets it, much to Helen's sadness.
Chapter 9: Helen goes to Boston and meets the children in The Perkin's Institute for The Blind where she relishes meeting with other children similar to herself.
Chapter 10: Helen and Annie go to the ocean and Helen has another traumatic experience when she is under water. However, this does not stop Helen from going back into the water. Helen is fascinated by a crab and is intent on keeping it but is content when it does actually crawl away.
Chapter 11: By now there are many people who converse with Helen by signing onto her hand. Helen feels happy. She spends time at Fern Quarry with her family and there are many things for Helen to do. There is a barbecue and the men have been hunting. Helen recalls her horse, Black Beauty, which is so-named because Helen had read the book some time in the recent past. Helen also recalls the time she and Mildred, her sister, were out walking and get lost, arriving back very late.
Chapter 12: Helen discusses her holidays and tobogganing and comments on the "exhilarating madness" and joy that she feels. It is clear that Helen does not allow her disability to hamper her experiences.