Essay PreviewMore ↓
Keller's story is also a member of the genre of disability autobiographies in which the writing of one's life story takes on the characteristics of what the philosopher J.L. Austin called "performative" utterances: The primary function of The Story of My Life, in this sense, is to let readers know that its author is capable of telling the story of her life. The point is hardly a trivial one. Helen Keller was dogged nearly all her life by the charge that she was little more than a ventriloquist's dummy--a mouthpiece for Anne Sullivan, or, later, for the original editor of The Story of My Life, the socialist literary critic John Macy, who married Sullivan in 1905. And even for those who know better than to see Helen Keller as disability's Charlie McCarthy, her education and her astonishing facility with languages nevertheless raise troubling and fascinating questions about subjectivity, individuality and language. Roger Shattuck and Dorothy Herrmann's new edition of The Story of My Life--supplemented as it is with Anne Sullivan's narrative, John Macy's accounts of the book and of Keller's life, Keller's letters and Shattuck's afterword--not only restores Keller's original text but highlights questions about originality and texts--questions that defined Keller's relation to language from the age of 12, when she published a story titled "The Frost King."
The episode is largely forgotten now, but in 1892 it was a national
How to Cite this Page
"Helen Keller." 123HelpMe.com. 06 Dec 2019
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- Two readings that I personally felt that I connected to were both Helen Keller and Brent Staples as well. Those two stories connected with me, not a whole lot but there were some parts then and there that connected with me. I strongly feel that I can make certain connections with Brent Staples. To him, he always thought the negative of himself first. “It was clear that she thought to herself the quarry of a mugger, a rapist, or worse’ (464). I relate to Brent because for myself I tend to think the negative of myself first instead of the positive in me.... [tags: Thought, Mind, Helen Keller International]
710 words (2 pages)
- Helen Keller was born Helen Adams Keller on June 27, 1980 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her parents’ names were Arthur H. Keller and Katherine Adams Keller; she was the first of two daughters that the couple had. Helen’s family wasn’t from the wealthy class, but earned most of their profits from their cotton plantation that they owned. Helen was born a healthy baby at first being able to see, hear, and even speak by the time she was six months old. Later on in 1882, she got sick which left her blind, death, and mute (biography.com).... [tags: Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan Macy]
1029 words (2.9 pages)
- Helen Keller is one of the most inspirational people in American history. She had to overcome physical disabilities and many other obstacles to live the life that she did. Keller was born on June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Her parents, Arthur Keller and Kate Adams, both served for the Confederates in the Civil War (Thompson, 2003). Like most parents, they were ecstatic when Keller was born. At 18 months old, she was a happy, healthy baby already learning to say her first few words. However, one morning, she woke up with an extremely high fever and had to go to the hospital.... [tags: Biography, Helen Keller]
1058 words (3 pages)
- Helen Keller: The Idol of Faith and Determination A small town known as Tuscumbia, Alabama was reviving from the civil war at the time of a very special birth; for it was the birth of a predominantly well known woman of faith, courage, and uttermost determination. Into the world came Helen Keller; a young, curious baby girl full of adventure and prosperity. This birth took place in a plantation home known as Ivy Green on the date of June 27, 1880 (Lawlor 2001). Helen was loved and admired dearly by her two parents Kate Adams Keller and Captain Arthur H.... [tags: Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan Macy, Tuscumbia]
1062 words (3 pages)
- There are people all over the world now who are scared and feel like there is no hope for them, but many people keep going, pushing, fighting through the tough times. They can do it because they have hope. Hope, an essential element of survival, is seen in history when Helen Keller, who was blind and deaf, was taught to communicate by a single person. In Elie Wiesel's book, Night, when Elie and his father rely on each other’s hope in order to survive, and within my own family when my brother was diagnosed with autism.... [tags: Helen Keller, Elie Wiesel, Night]
2261 words (6.5 pages)
- Learning from Helen Keller Facilitated Communication Institute Helen Keller is probably the most universally recognized disabled person of the twentieth century. (Others such as Franklin Roosevelt were equally well-known, but Keller is remembered primarily for her accomplishments which are disability-related.) Those of us who have grown up in the last half of this century have only known Keller as a figure of veneration. We know her primarily through popularized versions of her life such as the play "The Miracle Worker," or through her autobiographical works such as The Story of My Life (Keller, 1961 ) and The World I Live In (Keller, 1908).... [tags: Helen Keller Deaf Blind Essays]
3874 words (11.1 pages)
- Helen Keller Imagine a life without being able to see or hear and not knowing how to communicate with anyone around you. That world of darkness is what Helen Keller lived in for six years. Helen Keller has been an inspiration to people ever since she turned six. From 1886-1960, she proved herself to be a creative and inspiring woman of America. She was a writer and lecturer who fought for the rights of disadvantaged people all over the world. Most importantly, she overcame her two most difficult obstacles, being blind and deaf.... [tags: Helen Keller Blind Mute Death Essays Bio]
1684 words (4.8 pages)
- Helen Keller is has changed the hearing, the deaf, and the blind culture. She inspired so many people to push beyond their limits and showed that, even the girl everyone called ‘dumb’ can be more than that. Keller was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in a small town on the Ivy Green Estate. On July 27th 1880, she was a perfectly normal baby, she could hear, and see. Until she was 19 months old she became very sick with a terrible she lost her hearing and her sight. She was called a ‘wild child’ because she couldn’t understand others losing her sight and hearing was unexpected for her and so she didn’t know how to communicate with others.... [tags: Biography ]
1051 words (3 pages)
- Helen Keller may be the world's most famous supercrip. Very few people can claim to have "overcome" disability so thoroughly and spectacularly. A blind and deaf wild child at the age of 7, she became, by the time she published The Story of My Life at 22, one of Radcliffe's most successful and polished students, fluent in Latin, Greek, German, French and (not least) English--not to mention three versions of Braille (English, American, New York Point) and the manual alphabet in which her renowned teacher Anne Sullivan first communicated with her.... [tags: Biography]
1785 words (5.1 pages)
- Helen Keller Helen Keller was an American author who lived to educate and inspire others to become the most unique author of her time. She was a gifted woman who had exceptional writing abilities. She utilized simplistic style to correspond with all varieties of people. She wrote to inspire people and to help disabled people achieve their goals. Her writing style was full of many types of diction, syntactic devices, and patterns of imagery to exemplify her life chronicle. Keller used an unadorned tone with superb expressions and descriptions.... [tags: Story of My Life]
1421 words (4.1 pages)
Fully half of John Macy's sixty-page account of Keller is devoted to the "Frost King" scandal; his discussion includes not only Keller's story, printed side by side with Canby's, but also passages from Keller's letters, in which the then-9-year-old girl unwittingly yet accurately cribs from yet another Canby story and a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes. I don't have the space to convey an adequate idea of what Keller did with the minute details of Canby's stories, so you'll have to take my word for it: Keller's achievement--and it was an achievement--is nothing short of eerie. Apparently she memorized, by way of the manual alphabet, the precise language of short stories read to her by a friend in the summer of 1888; she then forgot that she had ever heard of the stories, and quite sincerely believed "The Frost King" to be her own when she published it four years later.
Now, my 11-year-old son, Jamie, despite his developmental disability, can recite whole stretches of Shrek, Galaxy Quest and both Harry Potter movies, complete with appropriate gestures and sound effects. So I'm not easily impressed by this kind of thing. But Helen Keller's powers of recall were almost beyond belief. Margaret Canby herself said as much, writing, "Under the circumstances, I do not see how any one can be so unkind as to call it a plagiarism; it is a wonderful feat of memory." This is a fair and judicious response, much fairer and more judicious than the bizarre abreaction of Keller's earliest and strongest supporter, Michael Anagnos, who was undone by the "Frost King" episode and eventually declared that "Helen Keller is a living lie." And yet it raises a profound question: What if all Helen Keller's utterances amounted to wonderful feats of memory? What if Helen Keller's education, focused as it was on the skills of reading and writing, amounted to a kind of program for an artificial intelligence--an intelligence designed to understand, memorize and generate language?
James Berger points out in a recent issue of Arizona Quarterly that these questions hover over Richard Powers's 1995 novel Galatea 2.2, in which a computer named Helen is programmed to pass an MA exam in English literature. The idea of Helen Keller as an AI--not a supercrip, but a cyborg--is an unsettling one, but Keller's letters (also included in this edition) render it plausible: Once Anne Sullivan had given her the tools, Keller went from writing "Helen will write mother letter papa did give helen medicine mildred will sit in swing mildred did kiss helen" in July 1887 to writing "Mon cher Monsieur Anagnos, I am sitting by the window and the beautiful sun is shining on me Teacher and I came to the kindergarten yesterday" in October 1888. Sullivan, to her credit, believed firmly that children learn language by imitation, and so decided from the outset to use full sentences when conversing with Helen, regardless of whether she would understand every word. (Sullivan's criticisms of rote pedagogical exercises are among the highlights of the book, as pertinent now as in 1903.) For "what would happen," Sullivan asks in an 1888 letter, "if some one should try to measure our intelligence by our ability to define the commonest words we use? I fear me, if I were put to such a test, I should be consigned to the primary class in a school for the feeble-minded."
The fascinating result is that Helen learned by imitating all the forms of language she encountered, and filling in the gaps as best she could--as when her mother told her that her grandfather was dead, and she replied, "Did father shoot him? I will eat grandfather for dinner." "So far," Sullivan explains, "her only knowledge of death is in connection with things to eat. She knows that her father shoots partridges and deer and other game." At these early stages, Helen's miscues sound more like program errors than like the gropings of a child.
And as she grew, Helen was increasingly haunted by the possibility that her subjectivity consisted of a string of textual citations. She never really got over "The Frost King." "Indeed," she writes, "I have ever since been tortured by the fear that what I write is not my own. For a long time, when I wrote a letter, even to my mother, I was seized with a sudden feeling, and I would spell the sentences over and over, to make sure that I had not read them in a book.... It is certain that I cannot always distinguish my own thoughts from those I read, because what I read become the very substance and texture of my mind." Referring to her writing as a "crazy patchwork" and a "Chinese puzzle," Keller pushes herself further and further toward an odd, proto-deconstructionist argument about the role of "iterability" in language, just as John Macy, in his remarks, flirts with the proposition that people are spoken through by linguistic forms. (No, he doesn't sound like a turn-of-the-century Derrida, but he does suggest that "the medium calls forth the thing it conveys, and the greater the medium the deeper the thoughts.") It does not help matters, to say the least, that Keller's writing is so deliberately and widely allusive: Describing her empathy for Homer, she calls him "a man acquainted with sorrow," drawing on Isaiah 53:3; referring to her childhood before Sullivan's arrival, she writes of living in the "shadows of the prison-house." The phrase comes from Wordsworth's ode: "Intimations of Immortality," but (as Shattuck notes) Keller bends it to her own purpose: Where Wordsworth refers to the process by which conventional adult life gradually numbs the child who had entered the world trailing clouds of glory, Keller suggests that she was led out of the prison-house of her early childhood and into the adult world--most important, the world of human language, which, contrary to what you may have heard elsewhere, turns out to be no prison-house at all.
Indeed, by the time she was 22, Keller's accomplishments in language had surpassed those of most of her fellow humans, not least because she had by then become acquainted with such a rich variety of writers in the modern and ancient languages. All too often, Keller's intellectual legacy has been treated as a matter of debits and credits: points for her advocacy of socialism and her ability to inspire; points off for her advocacy of eugenics and her opposition to sign-language education for deaf children. But it can also be said that Keller's life, together with her life's writing, testifies to the power--and the utility--of an education dedicated to reading the world's most challenging writers. She began by memorizing and imitating the treacly Little Lord Fauntleroy and children's stories about frost fairies, and she wound up weaving a crazy patchwork of sensations and expressions from Homer and the Bible, Molière and Goethe, Carlyle and Schiller, Shakespeare and Wordsworth. Keller's is more than just the story of a precocious supercrip; it is one of world literature's most extraordinary narratives about disability, education and language. Perhaps The Story of My Life derives its power from its author's distinctiveness, or perhaps its distinctiveness lies in its acute awareness that we are all, to one degree or another, derivative. Either way, it is a story worth committing to our collective memory.