The Story of My Life Summary
by Helen Keller

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The Story of My Life Summary

The Story of My Life is an autobiography by activist Helen Keller in which she recounts her early experiences and education.

  • An illness left Keller deaf and blind at nineteen months, and she was unable to communicate until her first teacher, Anne Sullivan, showed her how to use the manual alphabet.
  • Keller took a number of trips in her young life. In Boston, she met other blind children at the Perkins Institute, and in Chicago, she went to the 1893 World’s Fair.
  • Keller enrolled at the Cambridge School for Young Ladies in preparation for her entrance exams at Radcliffe College.

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Summary

Helen Keller begins her autobiography by pointing out the difficulties of writing autobiography and the unreliability of memory. She says that this book will contain sketches of “the most interesting and important episodes” of her childhood and youth. She then gives a brief account of her family background. Her ancestors were Swiss, and her grandfather settled in Alabama, where Keller was born in the small town of Tuscumbia in 1880. In the second year of her life, she became seriously ill and was not expected to survive. When she did recover, she was both blind and deaf.

When she was about six, Keller’s parents took her to see an eminent oculist, Dr. Chisholm of Baltimore. He could do nothing to restore her sight but pointed out that a blind and deaf girl could still be educated, and he referred the family to Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Dr. Bell told Keller’s father about the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, where a teacher was found to begin Keller’s instruction the following year.

The author describes the date of March 3, 1887, as the most important of her life. Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan arrived in Tuscumbia to be her teacher. Sullivan began her instruction by giving Keller a doll and spelling out the letters “d-o-l-l” into her hand. Keller enjoyed this game and imitated the letters Sullivan spelled, but did not connect them with the objects they identified. One day, however, after she had failed to differentiate between “water” and the “mug” that contained it, Sullivan took her out into the garden and put her hand under running water. She then spelled out “w-a-t-e-r” on her other hand. Keller connected the word with the cool, fresh sensation of the water on her hand and realized that the words she had learned to spell described the objects around her.

After this breakthrough, Keller spent the summer of 1887 learning the names of the objects that surrounded her. She reached another milestone when she understood that the word “think” applied not to an object but to what was happening inside her head, while the word “love” applied not to the scent of flowers or the warmth of the sun, but was similarly abstract. When she realized this, she felt “that there were invisible lines stretched between my spirit and the spirits of others.”

Although her progress was slow and difficult, Keller says that Sullivan always tried to bring her as close as possible to the experiences of a child who could see and hear, telling her what those around her were saying in order to include her in conversations. She gave Keller pieces of cardboard with words printed on them in raised lettering, and Keller arranged the objects in question to reflect the sentences she made, placing her doll on the bed before grouping together the words “doll,” “is,” “on,” and “bed.”

In May 1888, Keller went to study at the Perkins Institution for the Blind. For the first time, she was able to meet and make friends with other blind children, and she was delighted to find that she could communicate with them using the manual alphabet. Her interest in history was stimulated by a visit to Bunker Hill and a boat trip to Plymouth Rock. When the Institution closed for the summer, she spent the vacation with a friend named Mrs. Hopkins, who lived on Cape Cod. After a frightening initial encounter with the ocean, in which...

(The entire section is 1,292 words.)