Helen Keller

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In The Story of My Life, what fears does the narrator experience and how does Miss Sullivan help?

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The Story of My Life is the autobiographical account of Helen Keller's early life, up to her college days at the age of twenty two. Helen attempts to lift "the veil that clings about my childhood"(ch 1) so that others can be motivated and as inspired as she is by the people around her, such as Miss Sullivan, Helen's beloved teacher. Miss Sullivan is a determined young woman when she is first introduced to Helen and meets her match in the obstinate Helen. Between them, they forge a bond and Helen's education becomes central to everything. Miss Sullivan understands Helen's needs and is able to adapt her teaching to get the most out of Helen.

It is Miss Sullivan's persistence and patience that encourages Helen. Even when Helen is seemingly unkind, Miss Sullivan endures as she understands that she must break through "the still, dark world in which I lived"(ch 4) so as to reveal "the mystery of language" to Helen. The breakthrough comes when Helen feels water on her hand and is able to connect the word that Miss Sullivan spells into her hand with the actual water flowing from the spout which "awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!"

There are some occasions when Helen is gripped by fear and Miss Sullivan is always close by to calm her fears. On one occasion, a storm approaches and Helen can sense that she will fall at any minute but "my teacher seized my hand and helped me down. "(ch 5) Miss Sullivan ensures that Helen can always explore and face her fears and the Mimosa tree becomes Helen's "tree of paradise."(ch 5) Learning abstract concepts, like love, is difficult for Helen but Miss Sullivan, treating Helen like a hearing child, the only difference being that she spells words into Helen's hand rather than saying them, encourages Helen to "Think." Eventually this reveals everything to Helen and "The beautiful truth burst upon my mind."(ch 6)

As Helen continues to develop, Miss Sullivan's "peculiar sympathy (Miss Sullivan had) with my pleasures and desires"(ch 7) allows Helen to experience many things that otherwise would have escaped a blind and deaf child. Helen acknowledges that it is "my teacher's genius, her quick sympathy, her loving tact which made the first years of my education so beautiful."(ch 7) The bond between them becomes so strong that "the footsteps of my life are in hers." Helen's first experience at the ocean is also terrifying for Helen as she is gripped by a current but after flailing about in the water she is "clasped in my teacher's arms"(ch 8) and her confidence is quickly restored. Miss Sullivan is not afraid to allow Helen to be independent and Helen even gets to go tobogganing, even if it is "exhilarating madness."(ch 12)

Miss Sullivan encourages Helen to speak, even though she must "practise, practise, practise" and it is Miss Sullivan's "genius, untiring perseverance and devotion"(ch 13)that ensures that Helen never gives up. The incident of "The Frost Fairies," when Helen is thought to have plagiarized margaret Canby's work, has a serious effect on Helen but Miss Sullivan helps Helen cope and is the only one who knows of Helen's "torment" (ch 15) even though she is cleared of any intent.

Throughout Helen's life, Miss Sullivan is the one who ensures that Helen knows her own potential. Even when she is applying to college and the process is so endless and difficult, Miss Sullivan is the "only (one) hand that could turn drudgery into pleasure,"(ch 18) ensuring Helen's continued success.

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