Black and white illustration of Helen Keller

The Story of My Life

by Helen Keller

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Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction The Story of My Life Analysis

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The Story of My Life is more an account of Keller’s intellectual growth than an indepth look at her early years. As a result, Keller highlights those moments in her life that shaped her, particularly those relating to language acquisition and learning to speak and read. For example, her most detailed sketches revolve around how Anne Sullivan helped her learn that objects have names and Keller’s own preparation for college. Often, Keller is vague about dates and does not provide the full names of people who have been important to her. At the same time, however, several chapters include detailed descriptions of the books she has read and her studies at the Cambridge School for Young Ladies and later at Radcliffe. Her reading, she claims, had been much more a part of her education than for most people because it was through books that she gained knowledge that others learn from seeing and hearing.

Although Keller provides some background information about her parents, she is mostly concerned with other people only as they contributed to her education, including such famous individuals as Alexander Graham Bell. Openly concerned that she not fictionalize her story, she rarely records conversations. She is also careful not to provide any details about the places she had visited or the people she had met that she could not remember accurately.

At the end of the book, Keller suggests that the story of her life has been created by her many friends. As a result of her indebtedness to others, her view of them is generally positive. Keller clearly idolized Sullivan, to whom she usually refers as “my teacher.” In Keller’s view, Sullivan had become a part of her very being. Every one of her own talents or aspirations, Keller explains, had been awakened by Sullivan.

To a lesser extent, Keller also praises the help she received from Sarah Fuller, who taught her to speak, and her tutor, Merton S. Keith. Similarly, she acknowledges the sympathy and tenderness of Alexander Graham Bell, who first helped Keller’s father contact the Perkins Institute and who accompanied her to the world’s fair in 1893. Keller does, however, occasionally hint at disagreements between her friends. For example, because of a conflict between Sullivan and Mr. Gilman, the principal of the Cambridge School for Young Ladies, Keller withdrew from the school to study at home. She also recounts the controversy surrounding a story she wrote, but she is careful not to attack Mr. Anagnos of the Perkins Institute for turning against her, acknowledging that she was probably partially at fault.

The Story of My Life was not originally written for young adults. It has, however, long appealed to this audience because it focuses on a young adult who overcame extreme disabilities. The book is also told from the perspective of a young adult, as Keller was only a sophomore in college when she wrote it. Her success in learning to communicate against great odds made her a celebrity, earning for her the attention of such famous people of her day as Mark Twain, Mary Mapes Dodge, Kate Douglas Wiggin, Edward Everett Hale, and Alexander Graham Bell, all of whom she briefly mentions in the book’s last chapter. Even in Keller’s brief sketches, her struggles are compelling reading, making this a popular book for reading in public schools. The book is especially poignant when Keller describes being left alone in the woods during a thunderstorm, the ecstasy and terror of her first trip to the ocean, and her excitement over the first Christmas after she learned to communicate. She also reveals the dark state of mind that she was in as a child and the freedom that resulted from her discovery of language. Keller also effectively provides new insights into seemingly ordinary activities, such as taking a test and reading a book.

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