The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
You’ve probably hear the name Helen Keller. She’s become a household name for triumph over adversity, and is even featured in contemporary music, like the song “Helen Keller,” by DJ Khaled. Many people know that Helen Keller had a disability, but they don’t necessarily know the details of her story, leading her to stay in the hearts and minds of so many people.
It’s already a challenge living with a disability, but, as you’ll see in the sections ahead, it’s even harder to overcome when you’re young and growing up. In her youth, Keller already showed remarkable strength of character in the face of adversity.
In this book summary, we’ll explore her life as a child and adolescent. The life of Helen Keller is one that will likely motivate and inspire you to achieve what you want to achieve in your own life.
In this summary of The Story of My Life by Helen Keller, you’ll find out
- how difficult it was growing up both deaf and blind;
- how Keller’s life and development can be credited to one teacher; and
- Keller’s favorite book.
The Story of My Life Pt 1: Helen Keller was both blind and deaf since she was very young.
Born in 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama, Helen Keller would grow up to live a life no one thought possible. When she was only 19 months old, she was struck with a horrible fever. Before she got sick, Keller had already shown signs of being a fast learner, starting to walk and talk early on.
Due to her illness, she lost both her sight and hearing, making it so that she had to learn to communicate in different ways. She relied on basic signals and actions to allow other people to understand her, such as nodding for yes and shaking her head for no. Keller’s mother made a point to make sure that her daughter understood everything she was being asked of, allowing her, at the age of five, to begin partaking in daily activities such as folding and putting away laundry.
As you’d probably guess, growing up both deaf and blind can be incredibly frustrating, leading to Keller not being the most well-behaved child. Often, she broke into fits of rage from not being able to express herself clearly, and when something didn’t go the way she desired, the consequences were sometimes disastrous.
For example, once, she threw an apron into the fire because it wasn’t drying fast enough, thus setting herself on fire too. Thankfully, she didn’t suffer from injuries too horrible. There were other times she acted out too, such as locking her mother in a pantry for three hours without letting anyone know where the key was hidden.
This was one of many events that led to her parents realizing she had to be educated. However, it was really difficult to find someone who was qualified to educate a blind and deaf child. But it turns out, the right teacher would come along, and she would change Keller’s life forever.
The Story of My Life Pt 2: The teacher that changed Helen Keller’s life was called Miss Sullivan.
The family traveled to Washington to meet inventor Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, and afterwards, Helen and her parents were told to call the Perkins Institution in Boston, a school for the blind. Helen didn’t attend the school, but she visited frequently, and Mr. Anagnos, the director of the school, had the goal of finding a teacher who would do the best to benefit her.
That teacher was Anne Sullivan. Her and Keller were introduced in 1887 and Sullivan not only taught her words but also taught her the entire concept of language. Miss Sullivan used a method called the manual alphabet, which is based on the idea of using one hand to spell out the words on the other one’s palm.
Helen’s first word using this method was “doll.” Sullivan instructed her to touch her doll, spell the word with her hands, and repeated the same movements until she perfected it.
Miss Sullivan also taught Keller the relationship between the liquid she drank and the substance she felt when she dipped a hand in a stream: that they were actually the same liquid, which was water.
As Keller learned that everything had a name, she became eager to learn each and every one. She soon discovered that even things she couldn’t touch had names too.
Keller was first introduced to abstract concepts when she was working out how to string beads together. Using the manual alphabet, Miss Sullivan spelled out the word “think” after touching Keller’s head. But how could she describe other abstract concepts, such as love?
Miss Sullivan did this by using this analogy: even though clouds are out of our reach, rain from those clouds can still touch our skin, and the dry ground is surely grateful to receive that rain during an especially hot summer. Miss Sullivan explained to Keller that without love, we wouldn’t be able to feel joy or playfulness.
Being able to understand what connects us as human beings lead to Keller’s world growing drastically. Thanks to Miss Sullivan, Keller was able to learn how to effectively communicate, which freed her from that frustrated feeling, which allowed her to achieve everything she did in her life.
The Story of My Life Pt 3: Even though times weren’t always easy, Keller still lived a joyful and wondrous life.
During her childhood and young adult life, Keller had many valuable first experiences and loving friendships, but there were also hard times. When she was 12, she unintentionally plagiarized a book in her homework for the Perkins Institution and was reprimanded for it. A story she wrote for Mr. Anagnos was believed to have been copied from another story, although Keller did not remember ever being told such a story.
Keller was then placed on a quasi-trial at the Perkins Institution and it was questioned whether or not the plagiarism was intentional. The experience was incredibly saddening and distressing for her.
She was especially saddened at having disappointed Mr. Anagnos, whom she loved and for whom she had a lot of respect. The experience also made it so that she distrusted her thoughts and was fearful of writing. With time, though, she learned to overcome that fear.
Once she was free from her doubts and worries, Keller was emboldened to interact with the world, and by age ten she’d learned to speak. She learned about another deaf and blind girl in Norway – Ragnhild Kåta – who could speak, and Keller was determined to do the same, which made her unstoppable.
A woman by the name of Sarah Fuller taught Keller to speak by allowing her touch her face to feel the shape of her mouth and tongue whenever she spoke. She’d then have Keller repeat the actions.
This made her feel incredibly liberated in that she was now able to connect with other people and express herself. Keller didn’t want to let her disability affect her enthusiasm for life.
Unsurprisingly, people wondered whether she could truly appreciate things she couldn’t see or hear, specifically scenic wonders such as Niagara Falls. Keller explained that she could experience them in the same way we can all appreciate intangible feelings such as love and goodness.
The Story of My Life Pt 4: Keller had long dreamed of studying at a university, and she finally got the chance to.
Keller began her college career in 1900, and although her time there came with its struggles, the rewarding feeling she gained afterwards was everlasting.
She began her journey toward college at a prep school called The Cambridge School for Young Ladies where, shockingly, from a modern perspective, she was given almost no special assistance, despite her disabilities.
In order to pass her classes, Keller used the method of learning that Miss Sullivan had taught her. While taking her preliminary exams for college, Keller typed up her answers on her typewriter.
Mr. Gilman, the head of school, would then spell them out on her hand so that she could correct any mistakes she’d made during the exam. Keller became ill right before her final year of prep school.
The principal assumed this was a kind of breakdown and therefore, thought it would be too much for her to take her exams with her class.
This would mean that she would have to wait another year before she could attend college. Keller’s mother disagreed with this, pulling her out of the school and giving her a special tutor. During her final exams, she wasn’t given any special assistance, and had to go back and check her answers – if time permitted – just like everyone else.
Braille is known as the embossed dots made on paper that can be “read” by touch, and Keller had been learning a different type of Braille than the one used in her final exam, and therefore wasn’t familiar with the algebraic symbols used. Incredibly, despite this disadvantage, she passed the college entrance exam.
German and English Literature were her favorite subjects during her time in college. She was also proficient in both the French and Greek languages and read many French and Greek books, but her favorite language was German because of its ability to express a story so directly and honestly.
Her favorite English book was the Bible, and she loved Shakespeare – particularly Macbeth. Keller’s love for literature came from the feeling of connectivity it gave her. When she read, she was just like everyone else.
The authors and characters didn’t treat her any differently, and the stories she read allowed her to explore new and exciting places. While Keller was forced to go through many obstacles in her life, she hardly resented them at all. Instead, she found pleasure and meaning in overcoming them.
In Review: The Story of My Life Book Summary
The key message in this book:
Despite having more to overcome than the average person, Helen Keller fought hard to receive the education she wanted. With the help and support of her teachers and others she met along the way, Keller gained an appreciation for the wonders of life by learning how to maneuver around her many obstacles.