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.