Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

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2 Nov 2022
9

Helen Keller became ill at the age of two and was
left blind and deaf. For the next five years she grew
up in a world of darkness and emptiness. She was
afraid, alone and without any anchor. This is the story
of her meeting the teacher who would change her life.)
The most important day I remember in all my life
is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield
Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when
I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the
two lives which it connects. It was the third of March,
1887, three months before I was seven years old.
On the afternoon of that eventful day, I stood on
the porch, dumb and expectant. I guessed vaguely
from my mother’s signs and from the hurrying to and
fro in the house that something unusual was about to
happen, so I went to the door and waited on the steps.
The afternoon sun penetrated the mass of honeysuckle
that covered the porch, and fell on my upturned face.
My fingers lingered almost unconsciously on the
familiar leaves and blossoms which had just come
forth to greet the sweet Southern spring. I did not
know what the future held of marvel or surprise for
me. Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me
continually for weeks and a deep languor had
succeeded this passionate struggle.
Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when
it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in,
and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way
toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and
you waited with beating heart for something to
happen ? I was like that ship before my education
began, only I was without compass or sounding-line,and had no way of knowing how near the harbour
was. “Light! Give me light!” was the wordless cry of
my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that
very hour.
I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my
hand as I supposed it was my mother. Someone took
it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms
of her who had come to reveal all things to me, and,
more than all things else, to love me.
The morning after my teacher came she led me
into her room and gave me a doll. The little blind
children at Perkins Institution had sent it and Laura
Bridgman had dressed it; but I did not know this until
afterward. When I played with it a little while, Miss
Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word “d-ol-
l.” I was at once interested in this finger play and
tried to imitate it. When I finally succeeded in making
the letters correctly I was flushed with childish pleasure
and pride. Running downstairs to my mother I held
up my hand and made the letters for doll. I did not
know that I was spelling a word or even that words
existed; I was simply making my fingers go in
monkey-like imitation. In the days that followed I
learned to spell in this uncomprehending way a great
many words, among them pin, hat, cup, and a few
verbs like sit, stand and walk. But my teacher had
been with me several weeks before I understood that
everything has a name.
One day, while I was playing with my new doll,
Miss Sullivan put my big rag doll into my lap also,
spelled ‘d-o-l-l’ and tried to make me understand that
‘d-o-l-l’ applied to both. Earlier in the day we had a
tussle over the words ‘m-u-g’ and ‘w-a-t-e-r’. Miss
Sullivan had tried to impress it upon me that ‘m-u-g’
is mug and that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ is water, but I persisted
in confounding the two. In despair she had dropped
the subject for the time, only to renew it at the first
opportunity. I became impatient at her repeated
attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon
the floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt thefragments of the broken doll at my feet. Neither
sorrow nor regret followed my passionate outburst. I
had not loved the doll. In the still, dark world in
which I lived there was no strong sentiment or
tenderness. I felt my teacher sweep the fragments to
one side of the hearth, and I had a sense of satisfaction
that the cause of my discomfort was removed. She
brought me my hat, and I knew I was going out into
the warm sunshine. This thought, if a wordless
sensation may be called a thought, made me hop and
skip with pleasure.
We walked down the path to the well-house,
attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with
which it was covered. Someone was drawing water
and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As
the cool stream gushed over one
hand she spelled into the other
the word water, first slowly, then
rapidly. I stood still, my whole
attention fixed upon the motions
of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a
misty consciousness as of
something forgotten-a thrill of
returning thought; and somehow
the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew
then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool
something that was flowing over my hand. That living
word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set
it free ! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers
that could in time be swept away.
I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything
had a name, and each name gave birth to a new
thought. As we returned to the house, every object
that I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was
because I saw everything with the strange, new sight
that had come to me. On entering the door I
remembered the doll I had broken. I felt my way to
the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to
put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for
I realised what I had done, and for the first time I
felt repentance and sorrow.I learned a great many new words that day. I do
not remember what they all were; but I do know that
mother, father, sister, teacher were among them-words
that were to make the world blossom for me ‘like
Aaron’s rod, with flower.’ It would have been difficult
to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib
at the close of that eventful day and lived over the
joys it had brought me, and for the first time longed
for a new day to come.

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