The Story of My Life Essay Questions

Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Explain how and why Helen’s emotions toward Annie undergo a radical transformation between the time they first meet until Annie finally establishes a connection with the young girl.

    As a very young child fairly characterized as out of control before Annie arrives, Helen Keller inhabits a dark world populated by suspicion, rage and childish immaturity that she has grown used to openly expressing without fear of censor from either herself or her parents. Those intense emotions usually connoting negative personality traits all originate from a profound fear at living in a world enclosed by utter silence and darkness. Sullivan’s tenacious pursuit of establishing a connection can ultimately be viewed symbolically as lighting Helen’s darkness with first shafts of light capable of illuminating the frightful corner where that darkness lives. Thanks to Annie’s refusal to either give in to that fear or give up on Helen overcoming that fear, Keller’s emotional reactions begin to transform precisely as a result of the newfound and growing sense of security Annie offers whenever she is around. Over time, as Sullivan helps pry open the crack in Helen’s defenses so that more light can shine in, Helen gradually lets go of her rage with the arrival of less primal emotions comes a deepened sense of maturity. All those emotions ultimately expand outward to the rest of the world rather than focusing on Sullivan.

  2. 2

    What is Helen Keller trying to suggest with her metaphor of the king and the slave?

    Keller writes that “There is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.” Keller’s entire long life was dedicated to penetrating through existing structures of thinking to arrive at a new perspective of looking at familiar things with a the sense of wonder and marvel in a way such as those who are suddenly relieved of their blindness might see things anew. The metaphor of kings and slaves is key to understanding the very core of Helen’s outlook toward life. The entirety of The Story of My Life as well as most of her writings—not to mention her actions—is dedicated to the proposition of absolute and unqualified universality of equality. Just as Annie is connected to Helen and the reader is connected to Annie through Helen’s writings, so are kings connected to slaves. This intricate web of interlocking dependence ultimately has the effect of making everyone the same and no one better than any other.

  3. 3

    Imagine Helen’s life had she not pursued the educational opportunities afforded her as a result of Annie’s influence. What might that life have been like?

    Thanks to Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s world of silence and darkness was replaced by the light of education and communication which was instrumental in facilitating her rise to prominence as one of the most admirable and influential American women of her time. Had Annie Sullivan not arrived or someone with an equal aptitude, it is highly doubtful that Keller would have gone on to become an author, a political activist, much less wind up with her very own confidential file in the FBI’s record of surveilling citizens deemed a threat to democracy. Obviously, the obstacle here has nothing to do with Helen’s own intelligence or abilities; the sad fact of history is that many if not most children at the time who faced the disabilities Helen overcame lived out of most of their lives in institutions more intent on crushing hope than helping to realize it. In this way, The Story of My Life is not merely a document of an extraordinary woman, it is an exhibition of the fact that great success in life is all too often dependent upon taking advantage of good luck when it is recognized.

  4. 4

    How is Helen’s autobiography also a rejection of the principle of standardization upon which the American educational is based?

    The importance of remembering that Annie Sullivan is a major player in Helen’s life story cannot be underestimated. As brilliant as Helen turned out to be and as successful as she was in overcoming the many obstacles placed in her path, little room for argument exists that the story would have been quite different had Annie not played a part. The success of Annie’s connection with Helen is not just a personal story, however. Annie might well have failed to make the important connection which opened the floodgates had she been committed to trying different approaches. Lying deep within the heart of the story of Annie and Helen is a subplot revealing that the key to learning lies not just in finding the right teacher, but in finding the right teacher using the right methods. Were Annie blessed with sight and speech, she might well have entered a school determined to reach her genius through methods incapable of accomplishing this task.

  5. 5

    What effect does the relatively formal tone Keller chooses to write in have on the emotional tenor of the book?

    The frequent use of allusions to the Biblical stories and myths of the ancients as well as the elevated and even at time lofty syntax and diction with which Keller records her personal narrative has the effect of distancing the reader somewhat from the raw intensity of the emotional reactions she describe. While this may at first seem a questionable tactic in that it undercuts the heightened intensity of those passages that are more painful to read, ultimately the formal approach has the effect of making the book even more universal. Due to Helen’s remarkably precision in her use of sentence construction, many readers may not even realize that there exists not one single passage in the entire book that can accurately be described as self-pitying or in which the overarching emotional tone is bitterness toward her situation. That use of formality thus actually endows the narrative with a constant and consistent feeling of eavesdropping on an affectional recollection of one’s life by an obviously well-educated and literate autobiographer.

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