15 Feb 2014

#50 Book Review

The Story of my life

Author: Helen Keller

Genre: Autobiography

Stars: 4.5/5 (self rating)

About the author( in Brief): Helen Adams Keller (June27,1880, Tuscumbia-June1,1968) was an American author, political activist and lecturer. She was the first deafblind person to earn a degree of Bachelor of Arts. Helen was   born with an ability to see and hear. At 19 months old, she contracted an illness described by doctors as "an acute congestion of the stomach and the brain", which might have been Scarlet fever or meningitis . The illness left her both deaf and blind.

Review: The non-fiction novel “the story of my life” is an autobiography by Hellen Keller.

The novel begins with the description of the family and location of the author. The first chapter is all about that. As a child, she was very naughty. Her companions were Martha(cook’s child), Belle( pet dog).Her writing has very well described her childhood activities and her way of storing some of the precious moments of her childhood days. She was very close to her parents and the demise of her father in 1896 left her in a state of great sorrow which she calls her “first personal experience with death”. She also had a great time with her younger sister Mildred.

Being visually and hearing impaired, it was not at all easy for Helen to learn things. Generally, children learn a thing through observing which requires the sensation of hearing and seeing which were not present in case of Helen. She always had an urge to express herself and would sometimes become impatient.

In 1886, Keller's mother, inspired by an account in Charles Dickens' American Notes of the successful education of another deaf and blind woman,Laura Bridgman, dispatched young Helen, accompanied by her father, to seek out physician J. Julian Chisolm, an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in Baltimore, for advice. Chisholm referred the Kellers to Alexander Graham Bell, who was working with deaf children at the time. Bell advised them to contact the Perkins Institute for the Blind, the school where Bridgman had been educated, which was then located in South Boston. Michael Anagnos, the school's director, asked former student 20-year-old Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, to become Keller's instructor. It was the beginning of a 49-year-long relationship during which Sullivan evolved into Keller's governess and eventually her companion.

In 1888, Keller attended Perkins Institute for the Blind. It was in 1892( at the age of 11), she wrote her first story entitled as the “The Frost King” changed from “Autumn Leaves” as suggested by her teacher Mr.Anagnos which got published in one of the Perkins Institution Reports. Unfortunately, it got charged with plagiarism because of the striking similarity of her story line with “The Frost Fairies” by Miss Margaret T. Canby. This disappointed her very much.

After that tragic event which almost shattered all the level of confidence in Helen, Miss Sullivan uplifted her spirit by encouraging her to write a brief account of her life for Youth’s magazine when she was just 12 year old. The passages showed Helen’s untiring efforts in pronunciation the words, Due to her eagerness to learn new things, she read French by herself and Latin under the tutelage of Mr. William Wade, German from Miss Reamy, French from Madame Olivier.

In 1894, she attended a meeting Chautauqua of the American Association for improving the speaking abilities.  Before she moved to New York from Boston on 1896, a greatest sorrow of the demise of his father Mr. John P. Spaulding over shadowed her happy moments at New York.

In 1896, she entered Cambridge School for Young Ladies, to be prepared for Radcliff. The thought of going to college made her more determined to enter into a competition for a degree with seeing and hearing girls. At Cambridge, her plan was to make Miss Sullivan interpret the lectures but later it could not prove to be helpful. Miss Sullivan did a task full of patience to read her the text books which were not available in raised prints. The German instructor Frau Grote, who knew finger alphabets, was comfortable in explaining the things to her. This made her feel very comfortable. Everyone there was ready to help her.

At Radcliff college, she studied many languages like German, French, Latin, English composition, Philosophy, Economics, English Literature. There were a lot of problems at college for her to keep herself in the race. That process did not give her enough time to think and also made her aloof from the instructor. She even could not take notes during the lecture as her hands used to be busy in hearing the spelled words. In her words, “We should take our education as we would take a walk in the country, leisurely; our minds hospitably open to impressions of every sort. To know the thoughts and deeds that have marked man’s progress is to feel the great heart throbs of humanity through the centuries; and if one does not feel these pulsations a heavenward striving, one must indeed be deaf to the harmonies of life.” Through her description, it can be very well interpreted that she had an enormous hunger for knowledge. She always let herself to be swept by the beauty of nature and words.  

She has ended the story with words, “Thus it is that my friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.”

My experiences: Thanks to my friend because of whom I felt tempted to download this one as e-book. Generally, my eyes get strained after reading e-books for some minutes but that day I was surprised to find that I had missed my lunch reading this autobiography at a stretch of 1 hr and 30 minutes! This one was the second autobiography read by me after Gandhiji’s Experiment with truth. I felt very very connected to Keller’s writing as I found her way of presentation resembling to (sort of) diary writing. She has narrated everything around her so meticulously and vividly that it made me feel as if she suffered from no physical deprivations. I was amazed at the depth of her vocabulary and clarity of thoughts. She followed a sequence to narrate each event of her struggle with life. From her writing it can be inferred that she was a person who stored an abysmal gratitude for the persons of her life (her parents, sister, teachers and friends).  Had she not felt blessed about her life, then she would have not enjoyed and lived it so successfully. What a wonderful person she was!! I fell in love with her ideologies and thoughts after I finished reading about her life.

It left me in the state of deep contemplation about the idea of possession. Do happiness and satisfaction reside in possessions? From possession, I mean both materialistic stuffs as well as sensing abilities. What if we lose them accidentally (God forbids)? Will our life come to a state of standstill or will we dare to challenge our limits and transform our selves for good? If she could, why can’t we? Sometimes, I feel knocked down by the challenges of life which are thousand times less intense than those of Helen’s.
This is a must read inspirational book. There is an adage that when God closes one door, he at the same time, opens up many other alternatives. This adage is best proved in the case of Helen Keller. Even though she was deprived of the senses of seeing and hearing, yet was blessed with an unparallel skill of expressing herself through words. She had a hunger for words. She was definitely not among those who could willingly acknowledge her defeat.

In the end, I would like to mention some of her lines from the book which captivated me.

“Each individual has a subconscious memory of the green earth and murmuring waters, blindness and deafness cannot rob him of this gift from the past generations. This inherited capacity is a sort of sixth sense- a soul sense which sees, hears, feels all in one.”

“For after all, everyone who wishes to gain true knowledge must climb the Hill Difficulty alone, and since there is no royal road to summit, I must zigzag it in my own way. I slip back many times, I fall, I standstill, I run against the edge of hidden obstacles, I lose my temper and find it again and keep it better, I trudge on, I gain a little, I feel encouraged, I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening Horizon. Every struggle is a victory.”

Swati Sarangi


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