In The Story of My Life, the ocean is simultaneously a symbol of both fantasy and reality. Before Helen saw the ocean for herself during her first trip to Massachusetts, it was merely a distant idea, a romanticized part of nature that she only read about in books. When she sees it for the first time, she is knocked over and tossed around by a wave, and reality hits her hard—however, despite this experience, the ocean never loses its fantastical nature to her, and she remains in awe of it throughout her entire life.
The Train (Symbol)
The train is a symbol for mobility, travel, and the breaking of boundaries. Before Helen began her education, she was confined to her home in Tuscumbia, without the communication and interpretation skills necessary to allow her to venture anywhere else. Beginning with her first trip to Boston, however, her world expands, and this expansion is represented by the train that takes her across the country to new places time and time again. Helen learns much through her travels and gains access to so many resources, and this frequent movement was important to her eventual success.
The Cherry Tree (Symbol)
The cherry tree that Helen is perched in when a thunderstorm hits symbolizes the duality of nature. It is beautiful and alluring, which is what drew Helen to climb it in the first place. However, it also teaches her that nature is not always kind, as it succumbs to the effects of the thunderstorm and sways, nearly tossing her over. This experience helps Helen understand the sheer power of the world around her.
"The Frost King" Story (Symbol)
Helen's story, "The Frost King," represents the human mind and the way it can often betray a person. Language has given Helen more gifts than anything else, allowing her the previously unrecognized freedom of self-expression. She did not realize, however, that her mind can also betray her, by manipulating words and language of another stored so deep down that she did not know they were there. For the rest of her life, "The Frost King" always triggered these unwanted memories of betrayal and disappointment.
Books, Authors, and Characters (Motif)
Books and literature are a recurring motif throughout Helen's life story, and she frequently references the authors and characters she reads about—Shakespeare's Macbeth and Homer's Achilles, for example—as she recounts her own experiences. For Helen, books are sacred, allowing her to inhabit a world where she is neither disabled nor different from anyone else. Helen's love of literature recurs throughout her story in the form of the books she reads and talks about, both to her friends in her letters and to us, her readers.
The Story of My Life Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Story of My Life is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Arthur H. Keller is the father of Helen and Mildred, and a captain in Confederate Army prior to his work as a newspaper editor. His family is descended from Casper Keller, a native of Switzerland, who settled in Maryland. Helen loved her...