In The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, why does Helen compare herself to a ship in a dense fog? 

Expert Answers

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

For Helen Keller, the arrival of Anne Sullivan was the most transformative moment in her young life, leading to her ability to communicate and to experience a full, rich future. In her memoir, therefore, Keller carefully places verbal fanfare around the event to emphasize to the reader the importance of what is about to happen, especially the great distance between the Helen-before-Anne and the Helen-after-Anne. To heighten the contrast, she uses poetic language in the form of metaphor and allusion.

In this particular instance, she uses a metaphor, likening herself before Sullivan's arrival to a ship in a dense, white fog. This image communicates vividly how she was feeling in the days and weeks before her mentor showed up. We may not be able to relate to what it is like to be a frustrated blind and deaf little girl, but we can understand what it is like to be caught in a dense fog, so thick you can't see your way forward. This metaphor signals too what fear the young Helen was living in—so close to shore but for all she knew, forever lost. It illustrates as well how close she was, without realizing it, to salvation. As she writes:

Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? 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.

Keller also uses Biblical allusion to describe this event, likening Sullivan's arrival to the parting of the Red Sea and Israel's deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

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

That passage is very powerful because she is saying that she was quite close to her destiny without being able to know it, just as a ship might be close to land without being able to see it. Her destiny was to meet her teacher, Anne Sullivan. This quote is from the day that Miss Sullivan arrives. Helen is aware that something is about to happen, but she does not know what it is. The entire house is buzzing and preparing and she is anxious because she cannot know what is about to happen or how it will change her life.

"Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? 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. "Light! give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour."

Here she is expressing that she was hopeless prior to her education. She was unable to effectively communicate with her family and they with her. So, she was very much a ship in dense fog, unable to see anything and know what was going on.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

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