What impressions did the great men leave on Helen Keller's mind as depicted in The Story of My Life?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Story of My Life, Keller provides a personal and poignant picture of many great men. They leave impressions of kindness and sympathy on her. For example, when she is young, she meets Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, to whom she dedicates her book. She writes, "He held me on his knee while I examined his watch, and he made it strike for me. He understood my signs, and I knew it and loved him at once." Rather than portraying him as a great man, Keller depicts Dr. Bell as an avuncular and loving figure. Later, he attends the 1893 World's Fair with her and Miss Sullivan, and Keller says, "Dr. Bell went everywhere with us and in his own delightful way described to me the objects of greatest interest." She again conveys his personal rather than his public side. 

She visits Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a famous doctor and poet. She recites poetry to him. She writes, "But I stopped suddenly. I felt tears on my hand. I had made my beloved poet weep." This is a touching and personal account of a public figure in which he is reduced to tears by poetry. She writes of Dr. Edward Everett Hale, a writer and minister, that he

"...is one of my very oldest friends. I have known him since I was eight, and my love for him has increased with my years. His wise, tender sympathy has been the support of Miss Sullivan and me in times of trial and sorrow."

Again, Keller paints a picture of a private man, a tender and sympathetic friend rather than an august or reserved figure. When she is meeting with these great figures, they reveal their sympathetic and personal side to her.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the concluding chapter, Chapter 23, Helen uses the space to acknowledge and honor some of the notable people she has met in her young life. (She was just 23 when this book was first published, and her adult life was really just beginning. She lived to the age of 87.) These include religious leaders Bishop Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) and Henry Drummond (1851-1897); scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922); and American writers Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (1809-1894), John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), Laurence Hutton (1843-1904), William Dean Howells (1837-1920), Mark Twain (1935-1910), Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909), Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833-1908), Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900), and John Burroughs (1837-1921). She was fortunate enough to live in the right time period to meet all of these distinguished gentlemen at the turn of the century. In the chapter, she has nothing but glowing praise for them all, especially the writers:

They were all gentle and sympathetic and I felt the charm of their manner as much as I had felt the brilliancy of their essays and poems.

She and the Episcopalian Bishop Phillips Brooks kept up a lengthy correspondence. Naturally, she thinks highly of Dr. Bell and his work on behalf of deaf children. She expresses her gratitude to all of them here:

In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial