Helen Keller (1880-1968) is a revered figure in American popular culture. Struck deaf and blind by illness at the age of 19 months, she still managed to get an education and become a writer and activist. Her story was further popularized by William Gibson's play "The Miracle Worker," which was also adapted for both film and television.
Keller's autobiography, "The Story of My Life," first appeared in installments in "Ladies' Home Journal" in 1902. This book is truly one of the great American autobiographies: an inspiring story of a courageous individual who overcame tremendous odds.
Keller writes about many things: her childhood in Alabama; her relationship with her beloved teacher, Anne Sullivan; her attendance at the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City; and meeting such eminent figures as Mark Twain. She especially stresses her love of literature, which she describes as "my Utopia."
Along the way are some fascinating details and profoundly moving passages. Her tribute to the Homer, the blind poet of ancient Greece, is particularly powerful. I also loved her interpretation of the biblical Book of Ruth: a story of "love which can rise above conflicting creeds and deep-seated racial prejudices."
I think that many will regard Keller's autobiography as a mere historical or sociological document. But I think the book deserves a place as a great work of literature, and moreover as a work of literature in the great American tradition. Keller's poetic, often sensuous words about the natural world are comparable to the work of Emily Dickinson. And her stirring account of her revelatory awareness of language reminds me of Frederick Douglass' account of his first awareness of the power of literacy. The book as a whole is enhanced by Keller's charming, likeable literary style.
"The Story of My Life" is a wonderful book by an amazing individual. Helen Keller still has, I believe, much to say to contemporary audiences.
on May 7, 1998
I was about 8 years old, my grandmother had a "bed and breakfast" type of house in Garmisch, Germany, I was on my way home from school and had picked some flowers for her "B & B" tables, when I saw a lady with awhite cane, I gave her the flowers which I had picked for my grandma, The lady to whom I gave the flowers was Ms. Keller, the lady accompanying her was Ms. Sullivan. The next day, my teacher at school asked me to her office. Thinking that I was in trouble (again) I was worried about what was going on. She asked me where I had met Helen Keller; To which I replied "Helen who??" , She then explained to me who Helen Keller was. My grandmother and I then were invited to one of the finer hotels in Garmisch to have dinner with Ms Keller and Ms Sullivan. At which time she presented me with a hardcover of her book "The story of my life". What I belive makes this book special is the fact that Ms Keller wrote a note to me In GERMAN, she wrote: "An meiner kleine freund der meine hand froh machte mit 'Primrosen', eine botschft from fruehling mit liebe Helen Keller" In rough translation: "To my little friend, who made my hand happy with a message of spring with love Hellen Keller". This book is most certainly one of my most price posessions.
The Story of My Life is written while Helen Keller is in her second year at Radcliff, so it's really a story of how she became educated, not a story of her whole life. It was very interesting how she came to understand that words exist, or that things have words associated with them. Also very interesting that she has memories of things before she even had words for them.
It's explaned in the book that she wants to act as "normal" as possible, so that's why she describes things in color, or describes what she "saw," even though she doesn't remember any colors and can't see anything. She wants to describe them in the most "normal" way possible.
She also talks about how difficult it was to take college classes without any accomidations for disabilities. For example, she relied on her professors to learn the manuel alphabet and voluntarily give one-on-one instruction on their own time, and she was responsible for getting her own braille text books. But I was impressed with how much she was able to learn, through the help of dedicated individuals. (English, French, German, Latin, all as college prep before entering Radcliff. That's more than I'll ever know!)
Her letters show the progression of her language and writing ability from her very first letter. I was really amazed at her words and especially her spelling at such a young age.
It's really a story of hope, of how anyone can learn.
on August 2, 2003
The miraculous Helen Keller and her equally astounding teacher, Annie Sullivan, go into great detail of their struggles to overcome Helen's grave disabilities. It is so astounding, in fact, that it's almost incomprehensible. Helen's amazing mental ability, Annie's guidance and their mutual tenacity are surely to be credited.
It is a wonderful story to read, especially so because it is told BY them and not as interpreted by a third-party biographer.
Unfortunately, Helen's eloquence and the prose of the day can border on the flowery side (to be it mildly) which made me unable to push through as quickly as I might have otherwise.
But then again, that's the beauty of her success story: it WASN'T too good to be true!
on August 5, 2005
This book is Helen Keller's autobiography and is somewhat unusual because Helen Keller was deafblind. It is beautifully written and although I don't necessary agree with all the conclusions drawn by the author of the introduction, I found the autobiography very moving to read. Much of the time Helen wrote in a way that you would not realise she could neither see nor hear anything around her.
The fact that Miss Keller was not deaf from birth but became deafblind as a very small child following an illness makes her achievements particularly incredible. She had to re-learn her communication skills and this is due in no small part to her teacher and mentor, Annie Sullivan. Miss Keller came from a wealthy family who were prepared to go to endless lengths to help their daughter to live a fulfilling life, and it is thanks to them and to Miss Sullivan that we have Miss Keller's writings and pioneering work for deaf and deafblind people.
This is an incredible book to read and it also provides some interesting cameos of some of the people Miss Keller met (such as Mark Twain) because her letters are included at the end.
on October 6, 2012
We read a book ABOUT Helen Keller--but there is nothing quite like reading an autobiography. My daughter was SO excited to read this after reading the other. She is only eight but LOVING this book. Her favorite story being when Helen locked her teacher in her room. THis is SO worth the price, and my daughter and I are enjoying our reading time. HIGHLY recommend this book!!
on January 2, 2012
For the price (if it is still free), this is a great book.
The first section of the book, which is Helen Keller's autobiography that she wrote while in college, includes accounts of many of her memories, some of which were very interesting to read. I loved her stories about her memories from her early childhood (before she had any instruction in language) and her experience with learning about language and about the world. Most of us are so young when we learn these things that we can't remember. It was great to get inside Helen's head as she discovers things like Christmas and trains and cities. The book does get boring at times such as the remarkably long section about her favorite books, but you can easily skim through those chapters and just focus on the parts that are interesting to you. Keep in mind that the autobiography section was written over a hundred years ago, so some of the writing is a bit wordier than most things written today.
I also loved seeing the first few letters that Helen wrote, beginning with one she wrote just three months after her she started to learn language. It was great to see the progression in her writing.
Though this is clear from the description of the book, I was a bit disappointed that the book does not discuss Helen Keller's later life.
on December 5, 2012
Most people know Helen Keller from the movies titled "The Miracle Worker". In those films, the emphasis is on Anne Sullivan, Helen's teacher. This book is written by Helen and is about her struggles and the many accomplishments of an extraordinary woman. If you wonder how somebody who cannot see or hear learns to give speeches in English and French, then read this book.
on October 9, 2014
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller is a beautiful memoir about the power of love, language, and learning. It was sad and humbling to hear Helen describe how desperate she was to communicate with people. Since Helen was deaf and blind, she would go into a rage after being so frustrated that no one could understand her. That really struck home with me. In college, I babysat a 5 year old boy who couldn’t talk because he had cerebral palsy. He could answer yes or no to my questions by shaking or nodding his head. There were times when I asked every question I could think of and he would break down in tears of frustration - just like Helen Keller described. It was heartbreaking to see. When the boy I babysat went to school and learned more complex sign language, he lit up. I still remember the first time he was able to tell me a story. He was absolutely glowing with joy. Helen Keller’s story of learning was very touching to me since it similar to the experience that the boy I knew had.
How she was able to learn language was very interesting to read about since she was old to enough to remember the experience of understanding words for the first time. Her teacher, Annie Sullivan, used a method of teaching with Helen that had never been done before. The pedagogy behind how Annie taught language to someone who couldn't hear or see was fascinating. She had to break down and really think about how kids normally learn language and translate it into the senses that Helen had access to. She realized that kids acquire language through imitation and through hearing it all day long every day. So Annie would spell words into Helen's hand all day long about everything they were doing even though Helen didn't know what the words meant yet. Helen learned that words represented the things that she could touch. It was a bittersweet moment when Annie tries to teach Helen what love is and Helen can't understand why her teacher won't show it to her.
...how happy your little Helen was when her teacher explained to her that the best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen nor even touched, but just felt in the heart.
-Helen Keller, in a letter written to Rev. Phillips Brooks, June 8, 1891.
Before reading this, I had never realized how important books would be to Helen Keller. They were a huge part of how she experienced a world that she couldn't see or hear. She talked about books as if they were her friends.
I have not shown how much I have depended on books not only for pleasure and for the wisdom they bring to all who read, but also for that knowledge which comes to others through their eyes and their ears. Indeed, books have meant so much more in my education than in that of others ...
- Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, Chapter 21
There was a huge list of books that she read. You know me. Of course I wrote them all down.
Books Helen Keller Read
As You Like It By William Shakespeare
Speech on Conciliation with America by Edmund Burke
Life of Samuel Johnson by Thomas Macaulay
Child's History of England by Charles Dickens
The Arabian Nights
The Swiss Family Robinson
The Pilgrim's Progress
Because reading had such an influence on her, she often described things the way that someone could see would. She would describe trees as green even though she had never seen the color green because that's what books described them as. That being said, I noticed that a lot of her descriptions - especially of nature - centered on their scent and feel. Also, I want to write book reviews the way that Helen Keller does.
The "Iliad" is beautiful with all the truth, and grace and simplicity of a wonderfully childlike people while the "Aeneid" is more stately and reserved. It is like a beautiful maiden, who always lived in a palace, surrounded by a magnificent court; while the "Iliad" is like a splendid youth, who has had the earth for his playground.
- Helen Keller, in a letter to Mrs. Laurence Hutton, October 23, 1898
Helen desperately wanted to go to college but practical things made it extremely difficult. She struggled with being able to even take tests since they had to be dictated to her. Books weren't available in braille quickly enough and she would fall behind in classes. Lectures had to be written down in advance for her to follow along. It makes me appreciate not only my education but the technology today that allows equal access to books for people with disabilities. I just wanted to travel back in time and make her books because they were so hard to get in braille! As much as Helen loved books, she hated tests. Like really, really hated them. She describes the feeling of forgetting an answer on a test perfectly.
You are sure it is somewhere in your mind near the top—you saw it there the other day when you were looking up the beginnings of the Reformation. But where is it now? You fish out all manner of odds and ends of knowledge—revolutions, schisms, massacres, systems of government; but Huss—where is he? You are amazed at all the things you know which are not on the examination paper.
- Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, Chapter 20
She talks about the administration of the school and how they sometimes unintentionally made things even more difficult for her. But instead of letting it frustrate her, she felt accomplished that not only had she gotten an education but she had overcome the challenges in getting one as well.
Overall, it's an amazing story of overcoming difficult trials and making the best of what is given to us.
on February 1, 2011
My daughter had to do a school paper on Helen Keller, and the school library ran out very quickly. I
decided to give Amazon.com a whirl to see if they had it in stock, and ofcourse they did. It arrived very
quickly, giving us more than enough time to get the report done. Although I knew of Helen Keller from the
movie," The Miracle Worker" , I had no idea how accomplished a writer she was. It still boggles my mind
when I stop to think how she had to learn not only what words were, but the concepts as well. Imagine
someone learning the word love, and then the meaning behind it while you are blind, deaf and dumb!!! What
a remarkable woman,and this book captures her in all her glory in her own words. I highly recommend it for
young and old, especially on those days when you feel like complaining over mundane issues.