What were some of the reasons for Helen Keller's embittered childhood in The Story of My Life, and how were they overcome?
After Keller falls ill as a child, she is no longer able to see or hear. She describes this process as "very unreal, like a nightmare." It is frightening for her, as a baby, to lose her sight and hearing and to be surrounded by silence and darkness.
As a result, she becomes different from other people, and she reacts with frustration. She writes:
"I do not remember when I first realized that I was different from other people; but I knew it before my teacher came to me. I had noticed that my mother and my friends did not use signs as I did when they wanted anything done, but talked with their mouths. Sometimes I stood between two persons who were conversing and touched their lips. I could not understand, and was vexed. I moved my lips and gesticulated frantically without result."
She attempts to use signs to communicate with others, but they do not know how to use them and instead try to continue to use speech. As a result, Keller becomes understandably agitated because she so badly wants to express herself. She also is subject to danger, as she nearly sets herself on fire when trying to dry her apron. At this point, Keller has no tools or skills to express herself or communicate with others. She often has tantrums out of a sense of frustration.
She begins to overcome these problems once her teacher, Anne Sullivan, arrives shortly before Keller turns seven. She writes, "I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbour was." Sullivan is Keller's harbor. Sullivan teaches Keller sign language, and Keller writes that "somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me." Keller begins to feel calmer, as she can communicate with others. In addition, Sullivan teaches Keller how to read and about science and math. She also introduces Keller to other blind children at Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston, thereby helping Keller to overcome the isolation she felt always being around people who are different from her.
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