What circumstances led Helen Keller to be accused of plagiarism?

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mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After learning how to communicate, Helen Keller developed a deep love of reading and learning. She also started writing creatively. Helen was inspired by Miss Sullivan's description of nature during the autumn months. She then wrote a story called "The Frost King." Helen did not realize there were many similarities in her story to a previously published story that had been read to her previously.

Helen gave the story she wrote to Mr. Anagnos at the Perkins Institution. She happily mailed it to him for his birthday. Mr. Anagnos was impressed by Helen's story. He found it remarkable that a deaf and blind child who had only recently learned to read and write could develop such a creative story. He had the story published in a report for the school. It was soon discovered that Helen's story was incredibly similar to one by Margaret T. Canby. As a result, Helen was accused of plagiarism, which shocked and embarrassed her. At first, Mr. Anagnos took Helen's side. He believed she had not intentionally plagiarized.

A teacher at Perkins questioned Helen about her story, and accused her of confessing to intentional plagiarism. The teacher told this to Mr. Anagnos, who accused Helen of lying about her innocence. This caused a rift between the two, which devastated Helen.

The accusation of plagiarism left a deep impact on Helen. She described that period of her life as being "darkened by one cloud in [her] childhood's bright sky." Helen was afraid to write creatively for years.

teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Helen Keller was also brought before a court of investigation, which consisted of teachers and officers of the Perkins Institution. The results and details of the investigation, although not made available to Helen, were one of the key factors which led to her being accused of plagiarism.

During the court session, Helen was not allowed to have Miss Sullivan with her. It was apparent to Helen that the court was biased from the very beginning. She related that she felt only hostility when she entered the room. Although composed of four blind and four seeing individuals, the court appeared more ready to convict Helen than to acquit her.

Helen maintains that the aim of the court appeared to be oriented around forcing a confession from her and forcing her to acknowledge that she remembered having the "The Frost Fairies" read to her. The antagonistic atmosphere Helen faced caused her to be less than articulate; she could only provide monosyllabic answers to her interrogators' biased questions.

It is evident that the court's conclusions and Mr. Anagnos's subsequent withdrawal of support were key factors that led to Helen Keller being accused of plagiarism.