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The Story of My Life

by Helen Keller

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Student Question

What are the character sketches of Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, Alexander Graham Bell, and Mr. Anagnos in The Story of My Life?

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Helen Keller is the author of the memoir The Story of My Life. Left deaf and blind by a childhood illness, Helen grows up into a remarkable adult who is full of life and love for learning, nature, and her friends. She also works tirelessly to educate the public about the rights and needs of people with disabilities. Annie Sullivan is Helen's patient and determined young teacher from the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Alexander Graham Bell is a famous inventor who recommends the Perkins Institute to Helen's parents. Dr. Anagnos is the director of the Institute and encourages both Annie and Helen.

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Helen Keller is the main character in The Story of My Life which is a personal account of Helen's young life after she has a debilitating illness as a baby and is rendered blind and deaf. Annie Sullivan, Alexander Graham Bell and Mr Anagnos all change Helen's life dramatically and it is her first meeting with Dr. Bell which starts the process of her education and her fulfillment. In chapter III, Helen reflects how "that interview would be the door through which I should pass from darkness into light." 

Helen is a very expressive person and once she learns how to communicate, she is tireless in her efforts to learn as much as she can. She is intuitive and very demanding of others but she finds joy in the simplest things and shows appreciation through her acceptance and remarkable development. She is trusting and loving. Her high expectations do result in disappointments and one of her greatest regrets is after she unwittingly plagiarizes The Frost Fairies by Miss Margaret T. Canby which affects her confidence and belief in herself and after which her relationship with the beloved Mr Anagnos is irreparably damaged.  

Dr. Alexander Graham Bell is compassionate and kindhearted and an incredibly gifted inventor (as history will confirm). Helen dedicated The Story of My Life to him. He has a special relationship with children, especially the deaf, and his methods ensure that children are motivated and enthusiastic to learn. He is funny and immediately connects with Helen. He recommends The Perkins' Institute to the family which will begin Helen's long and extremely demanding path to learning.  

Annie comes from The Perkins' Institute for the Blind where she learnt to manage and overcome her own difficulties and is the person whom Helen recognizes as most significant in her education. Annie makes Helen "think" and the day she arrives is "the most important day I remember in all my life," such is the impact which Annie has on Helen's success. Annie is patient, determined and even stubborn, and it is her resolve which ensures that Helen is given time to adapt and to learn "language." Annie is visually impaired herself and, despite her young age and her complete lack of experience, she is dedicated and wise. She takes every opportunity to teach Helen, whether it be during lessons or out in the environment where she ensures that Helen has every opportunity to explore, discover and overcome her fears. She will become Helen's constant companion to the point that Helen feels that "the footsteps of my life are in hers."

Dr Anagnos is the director of The Perkins' Institute for the Blind and he understands potential, encouraging Annie as her mentor when she is uncertain whether she is ready to teach at the Keller's home. He recognizes Helen's enormous capacity for learning and becomes a dear friend to her. Unfortunately, although he claims to believe Helen, he is unable to shake the feeling that she may have deceived him  in writing her version of Canby's story and he never regains his unquestionable faith in her to the point of his attitude being "hostile and menacing" (ch XIV). However, his contribution to Helen's amazing success and to the lives of many blind children with whom Helen comes into contact is indisputable.

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