From The Story of My Life, write a character sketch of Martha Washington in Helen's life. 

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jameadows's profile pic

jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Martha Washington was the African-American daughter of Helen Keller's cook, and she was Helen Keller's best friend when Helen was little. Martha and Helen often played with Belle, Helen's dog, and Martha understood all of Helen's signs. Martha also gave into Helen's wishes, and the two girls played in the kitchen, kneading dough, making ice cream, and feeding the chickens and turkeys. 

Martha understood what Helen wanted to do, and, for example, she comprehended that Helen wanted to look for guinea-fowl eggs when Helen put her hands on the ground. Martha also experienced the wonders of Christmas with Helen, who did not yet understand the holiday. The two girls were allowed to grind spices and lick spoons as holiday treats were prepared. Martha was Helen's constant companion in mischief; for example, Helen once cut off Martha's hair, and Martha retaliated by cutting off Helen's hair. Martha was able to understand Helen as only another child could, and she offered companionship, fun, and understanding to Helen when Helen could not really communicate well with the adults in her life yet. 

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durbanville's profile pic

durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, Helen provides insight into her successes, the lessons learnt and also into her relationships while growing up as a blind and deaf girl. Helen struggles to communicate, and as she gets older her outbursts occur more and more frequently until "the most important day I remember in all my life" (chapter 4). Annie Sullivan's arrival marks the beginning of Helen's journey into language and communication.

However, before Annie arrives, Helen is friends with Martha, the cook's daughter and the two girls get up to mischief together which is probably one of the reasons why Helen relates so well to her and appreciates her capacity for having fun. Helen loves the fact that Martha is a mischief-maker, and despite their cultural differences (relevant to the time period), Martha understands Helen and needs little explanation of what Helen may want even recognizing when Helen wants to go "egg-hunting," for example. Martha plays with Helen, bakes with her in the kitchen, indulges her, understands her signs and allows her to dominate their games. This indicates that Martha is intuitive, even at such a young age, patient (still being friends with Helen despite her temper) and understanding. 

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