Before she began her education, Helen lived life in the dark, frustrated and angry because those around her could not understand her. Education changed Helen's life and empowered her achieve things that one would not expect a person with her handicaps to achieve. Anne Sullivan, Helen's teacher, is portrayed as a hero in this memoir because of the way she was able to educate Helen, and Helen herself carries a deep love of learning with her to every school she attends. All of this contributes to one of the memoir's most important themes: that education is uniquely transformative.
People without disabilities like Helen's often take language for granted. Children who see and hear acquire language by imitation, and eventually learn to listen, speak, read, and write as a natural progression of their abilities. For Helen, language was far out of reach at the beginning of her life, and she had to work harder than most to acquire it. This experience has made her value language above all else, and her memoir sends the message that language—the ability to communicate with and understand those around you—is an essential part of being human.
Helen's success against all odds is a result of many individuals' determination to see her achieve. First, Helen herself possessed strong mental fortitude, and continually pushed herself because she strove to rise to the standard of everyone around her. Helen's teacher, Miss Sullivan, was similarly dedicated, bearing Helen's early frustration and anger because she knew she would be able to help change the young girl's life. Finally, the continuous encouragement and strength of Helen's family and friends also helped her to reach the immense goals she set. Without commitment and perseverance, Helen would not have been able to overcome her challenges.
Helen makes it clear throughout her memoir how much she values her friends, and how big an impact they have made on her life. Unlike many children her age, Helen's unique circumstances allowed her to befriend individuals from all walks of life—prominent authors, poets, inventors, scientists, and educators from all around the United States and across the world. These friends gave Helen the love and support she needed to succeed, affirming the importance of surrounding yourself with people who care about you and your achievements.
Helen feels at home when she is out in nature more so than anywhere else. In the outdoors, she does not need sight or hearing to understand what is around her; she can feel the power of her surroundings through touch and smell, and does not have to rely on verbal communication. Helen learns many of her lessons through interactions with nature, and each time she encounters a new part of it—the ocean, for example, or Niagara Falls—she describes it with a sense of awe and wonder that cannot be found anywhere else in her writing.
Helen loved traveling and experiencing new parts of the world, and the many trips she took around the country contributed to her education more than any lesson in a classroom. In Boston, she learned history first-hand; at the World's Fair, she immersed herself in different cultures without leaving the U.S.; in Washington, she met many prominent government officials whose support and encouragement greatly contributed to her success. Travel enabled Helen to gain new perspectives and achieve the things she dreamed of.
The Strength of Youth
Helen's story is a true example of how adaptable and powerful children are. Because Helen began her education when she was still very young, she was able to overcome her disabilities far more swiftly than an adult with her condition would. Children are extraordinarily receptive to learning, because their minds are still being shaped, and Helen's success at acquiring language without two of its most important tools—sight and hearing—illustrates this to a remarkable extent.
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...