Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 407

Written when Keller was only twenty-two years old, The Story of My Life reviews the author’s early life. Critics were, and continue to be, impressed with the presentation of the story as well as with the inspiring content. Because Keller was a celebrity in her day, the autobiography caught the attention of readers and reviewers, who found the book satisfying and heartening. First published in 1903, the book is still in print. Some school teachers use the book as a way to teach perseverance and the importance of education, and instill a deeper appreciation of and compassion for the physically challenged.

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Critics praise The Story of My Life as a book with a message. Keller showing that obstacles can be overcome, whether they are physical or social, continues to resonate with readers. In a review for Booklist, Nancy McCray praised a sound recording of the autobiography because ‘‘the tenacity of the deaf and blind woman is revealed.’’ Critics such as Diane Schuur of Time further noted that Keller, in general, is a writer who speaks the ‘‘language of the sighted.’’ Schuur added, ‘‘She proved how language could liberate the blind and the deaf. . . . With language, Keller, who could not hear and could not see, proved she could communicate in the world of sight and sound—and was able to speak to it and live in it.’’

While Keller’s contemporaries almost unanimously praised the book, some of them raised concerns about the validity of the authorship. They believed that perhaps Sullivan and Macy actually wrote the book instead of Keller. Those who knew Keller personally found such doubts ridiculous because Keller was such an eloquent speaker and writer and was perfectly capable of expressing her thoughts and opinions. No evidence was ever offered that proved that Keller did not write her autobiography.

A negative criticism of the book is directed at Keller’s life rather than at the literary merits of the autobiography—that Sullivan sacrificed her entire life for the sake of her student strikes some reviewers as unhealthy. Walter Kendrick of the New York Times Book Review cited an anonymous review of the autobiography: ‘‘The wonderful feat of drawing Helen Keller out of her hopeless darkness was only accomplished by sacrificing for it another woman’s whole life.’’ Scholars familiar with Sullivan’s life story note that her marriage to John Albert Macy eventually ended because Keller was too much a part of their lives.

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