What were the fears around Helen in The Story of My Life? Who helped her to overcome these fears?
Helen was a brave child, but being blind and deaf meant that she would sometimes become fearful of things she could not see or hear. Since she could only sense, fear of the unknown led her to panic. For instance, one day she was in a tree before a thunderstorm hit, and became very frightened.
I knew it, it was the odour that always precedes a thunderstorm, and a nameless fear clutched at my heart. I felt absolutely alone, cut off from my friends and the firm earth. The immense, the unknown, enfolded me. I remained still and expectant; a chilling terror crept over me. (Ch. 5)
After this, it is a long time before she climbs another tree. She says the “mere thought filled me with terror” (Ch. 5). Yet when she climbs a tree again, it is like a wonderful new world, a paradise. She has proven that she can conquer any fear, eventually. Nature is too beautiful and bountiful to be missed.
Another example of fear also involves nature, in a way, because it involves water. Helen again gets into a situation where she is in over her head.
The buoyant motion of the water filled me with an exquisite, quivering joy. Suddenly my ecstasy gave place to terror; for my foot struck against a rock and the next instant there was a rush of water over my head. (Ch. 10)
She manages to get herself out of the situation because the waves throw her back out. Like the incident with the tree, Helen got out of the situation on her own just like she got into it on her own. Sometimes, however, as in this time, it is her teacher Anne Sullivan who comforts her.
Helen describes an episode of more personal fear in the winter of 1892.
THE winter of 1892 was darkened by one cloud in my childhood's bright sky. Joy deserted my heart, and for a long, long time I lived in doubt, anxiety, and fear. Books lost their charm for me, and even now the thought of those dreadful days chills my heart. (Ch. 14)
The incident involved a mistaken plagiarism on Helen’s part, where she wrote a story that she thought was her own, that turned out to be remembered from a story read to her when she was a child. It was an innocent mistake, but it hurt her pride and turned her world upside down. Anne Sullivan knew that she did not make the mistake deliberately or plagiarize, and comforted her.
At first some people believed her and others did not, but then she was brought up upon charges “brought before a court of investigation” and her beloved teacher “Miss Sullivan was asked to leave” her (Ch. 14). She was terrified that this would happen, because she relied on Anne Sullivan and had come to cherish her company.
Fortunately, Anne Sullivan was able to investigate the incident and figure out where Helen first heard the original story, and soon the whole incident was forgotten. Still, from then on, Helen notes that the “thought that what I wrote might not be absolutely my own tormented” her (Ch. 15). From then on she was absolutely careful about what she wrote. This was a fear that her teacher Anne helped her with, but no one else knew about.
Helen was always strong, and strong-willed. Able to overcome every challenge and every fear, she went from facing scary thunderstorms and the sea to the perils of writing and academics. Through all of this, she had her impenetrable will and her steadfast teacher Anne Sullivan to help her face her fears and stay successful.