Having been left blind and deaf after an illness at the age of nineteen months, Helen Keller relies on her sense of touch to explore and discover the world around her. In The Story of My Life she invites the reader to share her story and learn from her experiences. The reader finds inspiration and is surely motivated to appreciate the potential in the simplest things.
In chapter 1, Helen describes her home and the garden as "the paradise of my childhood." When she is particularly frustrated, she finds solace in the garden, using her sense of touch and smell to find her favorite place and "to hide my hot face in the cool leaves and grass." At the age of five, Helen is proud that she can do some chores and her attempts to be normal include dressing up and even placing herself in front of a mirror with powder on her face and a "bustle" around her waist in an attempt to help "entertain" guests. Helen also wonders why when she moves her mouth and "gesticulates[d] frantically" she cannot make herself understood.
Helen recalls cutting Martha's hair and even trying to tip her baby sister out of a cot which Helen thinks should be reserved for her doll Nancy. She recalls almost setting herself on fire while trying to dry her apron in front of the fire and she recalls mimicking her father, putting on his glasses and holding a newspaper up to her face trying to make some sense of what he does (ch 2).
Helen's experiences with Annie Sullivan become her vision, starting with Annie's attempts to teach Helen "language." So the turning point in Helen's life comes when she learns the importance of words and "that 'w-a-t-e-r' means the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul" (ch 4). Annie does not restrict Helen to a classroom or to structured lessons but takes every opportunity to expose Helen to new and exciting textures and experiences including an occasion when Helen is in a tree and becomes aware of a change in the atmosphere, signalling an approaching storm. Helen admits that "a nameless fear clutched at my heart" (ch 5) because Annie has left her alone and for a long time afterward Helen avoids climbing trees. Helen admits that "everything that could hum, or buzz, or sing, or bloom had a part in my education" which therefore ensures that she "learned from life itself" (ch 7).
Helen visits the Perkins' Institute for The Blind and discovers real" joy to talk with other children in my own language" (ch 9). She relishes holidays, the seasons and the sea which both fascinates and terrifies her. She remembers tobogganing and an "exhilarating madness" (ch 12) in the snow. She refers to her efforts to speak and extend her communication abilities and she painfully mentions in chapter 14 how she learns lessons that are sometimes almost too hard to bear such as the incident with her story The Frost King which turns out to be too similar to Margaret Canby's work The Frost Fairies and which therefore irreparably damages her friendship with the dear Mr Anagnos who thinks she plagiarized the work. She admits that "this sad experience may have done me good."
Helen's experiences therefore become her measure of development and, effectively her "sight," giving her valuable memories and allowing her to understand things and accept them.