The Story of My Life by Helen Keller

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Themes

(Nonfiction Classics for Students)

Perseverance
Perhaps the single greatest lesson readers take away from The Story of My Life is the value of perseverance. Without the ability to see or hear, Keller learned to function and interact within society in a meaningful way. Her drive to make a place for herself in the world started when she was very young. Even as a child, she found ways to help her mother around the house, rather than stay in a world that was dark, silent, and lonely. In fact, the terrible fits for which she is so well-known were the product of her extreme frustration at not being able to make herself understood and not having anyone else reach out and communicate with her. Once she overcame her obstacles and learned to communicate, she was driven to accomplish her high goals. She garnered many achievements, but she also gave credit for her accomplishments to her supporters. The concluding paragraph of The Story of My Life recognizes the invaluable contributions her friends made to her extraordinary success.

Once Keller learned to communicate and to read, she was eager to learn to speak. When she heard about a blind-deaf Norwegian girl who had learned to speak, Keller recalls, ‘‘Mrs. Lamson had scarcely finished telling me about this girl’s success before I was on fore with eagerness. I resolved that I, too, would learn to speak.’’ Once she started lessons in speech, she worked on it constantly. In chapter thirteen she remembers,

My work was practice, practice, practice. Discouragement and weariness cast me down frequently; but the next moment the thought that I should soon be at home and show my loved ones what I had accomplished spurred me on, and I eagerly looked forward to their pleasure in my achievement.

At every educational level, Keller was urged on by her desire to excel. When she decided that she would go to college, she wanted to do it just like anyone else, not as a blind-deaf student. In chapter eighteen, she writes, ‘‘The thought of going to college took root in my heart and became an earnest desire, which impelled me to enter into a competition for a degree with seeing and hearing girls.’’ She planned to attend college, but she did not want to go to a school for the deaf and blind. This proved to be more difficult than she imagined, but she accepted her struggles as challenges and found satisfaction in meeting them. Because Radcliffe College was not equipped to administer exams to a blind-deaf person, Keller had difficulties while taking her exams. Sullivan was not allowed to assist, so the faculty did the best they could. At the end of chapter nineteen, Keller remarks,

But I do not blame anyone. The administrative board of Radcliffe College did not realize how difficult they were making my examinations, nor did they understand the peculiar difficulties I had to surmount. But if they unintentionally placed obstacles in my way, I have the consolation of knowing that I overcame them all.

Education and Knowledge
Keller firmly believed in the power of education, both formal and informal. She found that she was delighted in the process of learning and that there was great value in acquiring knowledge in a variety of areas. In chapter four, after she made the mental connection between water and the letters that spelled it, she

knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away. I left the well-house eager to learn.

She continues in chapter five, ‘‘the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world.’’ This ability to connect with the world is at the center of Keller’s love of knowledge. After learning the meaning of love, for example, she comments in chapter six, ‘‘I felt that there were invisible lines stretched between my spirit...

(The entire section is 1,189 words.)