Synopsis of the first 5 chapters of Story of My Life by Helen Keller?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Well, the first five chapters of The Story of My Life involve mostly exposition.  Helen Keller spends some time describing both the setting (her Alabama home) and the members of her family.  Helen Keller also relates the true story of how she became deaf, dumb, and blind.  In short, she had a sickness when she was almost two years old.  It involved a very high fever that was too high for her age and damaged her body as a result.  It left her both blind and deaf and, consequently, in not being able to see or hear, she wasn't able to speak well either.  Helen Keller then talks a lot about her very first memories: those of not being able to communicate with family members.  The frustration begins. 

What comes next is a very interesting description of how Helen Keller coped with the change in her life: the change from being able to see and hear to NOT being able to see and hear.  She vividly remembers all of the sounds and the sights of her early, early childhood!  (This shows Helen's intelligence.)  Unfortunately, they are just memories, and Helen is left to get used to both silence and utter darkness.  With no outside help, Helen makes up her own way to communicate with her family.  It isn't enough, however, and Helen Keller relates how, even though she knew she was incorrigible, she had to throw temper tantrums in order to make herself understood.

Even though Helen Keller wasn't able to understand it from this young age, the older Helen (writing the book) recounts how hard her mother and father tried to get her some kind of medical help.  More frustration ensued.  Finally, the most interesting and influential character appears: Anne Sullivan.  The older Helen Keller (again, the one writing here) relates her very earliest experiences with her teacher as both frustrating and even humiliating.  These are Helen Keller's first memories of real education.

Helen Keller's parents are hopeful when they hear about Boston's Perkins Institute.  First, though, they hear of Dr. Howe.  Dr. Howe had supposedly taught a girl named Laura who was both blind and deaf.  Then they hear about possible eye surgery, but as the eye doctor only points them to Dr. Bell (the famous Alexander Graham Bell in history), he suggests the Perkins Institution.

The Kellers DO contact Boston and the Perkins Institution and, when Helen is only six years old, Anne Sullivan arrives in Alabama to teach Helen.  Here is where we fast-forward through other works of literature such as The Miracle Worker.  By the end of chapter five, Anne Sullivan succeeds in teaching Helen the entire alphabet and Helen already understands that there is a word associated with every single thing she comes in contact with.  This is the key to Helen's further education.  Chapter five ends with this breakthrough.  Here is a beautiful description of Helen's feelings on the subject:

I began my studies with eagerness. Before me I saw a new world opening in beauty and light, and I felt within me the capacity to know all things. In the wonderland of Mind I should be as free as another [with sight and hearing]. Its people, scenery, manners, joys, and tragedies should be living tangible interpreters of the real world.

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