Black and white illustration of Helen Keller

The Story of My Life

by Helen Keller

Start Free Trial

How does Helen Keller inform others about life with visual and hearing impairments in The Story of My Life?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think Keller's purpose was to show the fundamental humanity of people with disabilities, and part of that is explaining her internal life as a child who could not see or hear. There is a kind of otherness to her mature writing which seems at odds with her stories about her childhood, as if her writing self was a kind of abled guide and almost a separate person to her disabled self.

She explains as much at the beginning of her book, when she speaks of her childhood, that

. . . when I try to classify my earliest impressions, I find that fact and fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present. The woman paints the child's experiences in her own fantasy.

Her description of her childhood, her relationship with Martha Washington and the pranks she played on her mother and her teacher, Anne Sullivan, suggest that, for all her difference, Helen was still the precocious girl she was before the illness that took away her sight and hearing. In that sense, the story of her education is a story about how her writing self, the voice of The Story of My Life, came to be—a self that is both like and unlike the child.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The story is an autobiography in which Helen Keller tells people about the experiences she has had being blind and deaf and the difficulties she has faced. 

This story is nonfiction, meaning it really happened.  Helen Keller’s objective for writing the story of her life was to let people know that a person with disabilities may have challenges others do not face, but can still accomplish things that people without disabilities can do. 

The story serves its purpose because Helen Keller lets us into her mindset and emotions from a very young age.  She was a courageous and sensitive person, and very intelligent.  Her intelligence allowed her to overcome several years of darkness when as a child she could not see or hear, and therefore had trouble learning to talk. 

When you read about someone else’s experiences, you develop empathy for that person.  We may look at the blind and deaf differently when we realize that although they experience the world in a different way than we do, they are just like everyone else.  Helen Keller wanted to support awareness for people with her condition. 

Helen Keller often shares how she worked hard to become a part of the regular world, and to be able to communicate with people effectively.  Even as she got older she continued to try to learn new skills to make it easier to function.  She shares how, for example, she tried to learn to read lips. 

It was my ambition to speak like other people, and my teachers believed that this could be accomplished; but, although we worked hard and faithfully, yet we did not quite reach our goal. I suppose we aimed too high, and disappointment was therefore inevitable. I still regarded arithmetic as a system of pitfalls. (Ch. 17) 

Despite being blind and deaf, Helen Keller worked to learn French and German.  She went to college and studied multiple subjects alongside seeing and hearing students.  At that time, there were few resources for the blind or deaf.  Her schoolbooks were not even available in braille, and she had to have them spelled to her.  Yet she persevered, and her legacy is an inspiration to all of us to be more inclusive to people with different abilities.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Story of My Life, what evidence suggests that the author's main purpose was probably to inform others about what life is like for people with visual and/or hearing impairments?

It is true that The Story of my Life is both engaging and entertaining, but it also deeply moving and educational in helping readers to identify with those with sensory disabilities; therefore it does seem that the author's main purpose was probably to spread awareness and openness about an issue that was often pushed under the carpet back in the times when this piece was written. The author does seem to have wanted to inform others about what life is like for people with visual and/or hearing impairments, probably due to a suspicion that attitudes of intolerance and shame around sensory impairments and learning disabilities were often born of ignorance and prejudice.

Helen Keller’s story of conquering her deaf/blind issues seems colored by her justified angry response to this prejudice against those with disabilities, and if her motive was to inform and educate, then she certainly succeeded in raising public awareness as new audiences became aware and rallied to her call. The human interest element to a real life tale was guaranteed to catch the public eye and galvanize some into action to correct a deep injustice in society, or at least to move towards the more empathic provision we have today in most societies.  Her account was popularized by plays and movies such as The Miracle Worker, and Helen's story now provides a symbol of hope for the disabled all around the world. The medical profession began to investigate the issues and to carry out research, being more careful to truly analyze the talents, intelligence, capabilities and aptitudes of the real persona behind the disability and not to write patients off completely just because they suffered one or two sensory impairments. They found that often these patients were of very high intelligence with great gifts to offer the world.

The Story of My Life was published when Helen was only in her early twenties and reveals the true free spirit of the seemingly untamed but angry child who was locked away in a dark, bleak, quiet and lonely void, virtually a prisoner. Passionately and urgently, Helen shows readers her anger and fury and sense of impotence, carrying readers through the journey of her life, education and eventual glimmers of hope as a whole world of communication dawns. When Helen recognizes the word “water” as her teacher spells the letters using her fingers, we share her sense of victorious joy as “that living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on