HELEN KELLER biography



     The dawn of this century saw the working of determination and faith in the story of Helen Keller. She was the heart rending tale of a little girl who being afflicted with fever at 19 months lost not only her eyesight but her, hearing and speech as well.
To conquer this triple handicap and to rise above such basic HELEN KELLERlimitations was not only an arduous task but must have seemed an impossible one too. Today too with the hi-tech gadgetry that the modern day world can boast of it still seems quite a fantastic feat. But Helen Keller's diligence and fiercely invincible spirit has etched a story of success on the pages of history that inspires all humanity.
Born in the little Alabama town of Tuscumbia on 27 June, 1880, Helen was a beautiful healthy baby of her parents Captain Arthur Keller and his wife Katherine. Tragedy stuck, when Helen, a little over one and a half years lost her eyesight and hearing after she was stuck suddenly by a “fever of brain and stomach.”This rendered her to a life of total dependence. By the age of three Helen became mute as well. The happy gurgles of a child which are a mother's delight were never to be. Helen was sentenced to a life of silent dark loneliness the screams of which must go unheard.
Incarcerated in her prison of speechless sounds and blank darkness Helen’s early childhood was characterized by temper tantrums. Unable to communicate her needs, desires, wishes and thoughts Helen was confined to a confused, frustrated state of mind. Rebellion was the only successful way of affecting a response from the outside world. Shuttered in a tomb of silence and failing to make herself understood she gave in to wild gusts of rage that alienated her further from anyone who would otherwise have forwarded a hand of friendship. It seemed at that time that a life of seclusion bereft of a single ray of light or a single note of music was to be her lot. But hope came in the form of Annie Sullivan a graduate of the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Together, Helen and she were to make history.
Hope has a way of entering the penumbra of darkness and enlightening it. Helen’s parents accepting their destiny still waited for a miracle to happen. On reading Charles Dickens’ American Notes, one day, Mrs. Keller learnt about the much acclaimed Dr. Samuel Howe if the Perkins Institute for the Blind, in Boston. He had successfully instructed a deaf and dumb girl Laura Bridgman to read and write. Great expectations arose, only to be quelled as the troubled parents contacted the Perkins Institute for the Blind in desperation. Dr. Howe was dead. Thoroughly disappointed they saw the curtain falling on their hopes and plunging in darkness what started as a ray of light. It was then that the Greek born Dr. Michael Anagnos, Dr Howe’s capable successor suggested the name of Anne Sullivan to try and teach the girl something.
Anne Sullivan‘s own life also had been far from happy. Born of Irish immigrant parents, her mother's death when Anne was eight and her father's abandonment of his three children there of, exposed Anne to a life of harsh depravity. Anne was nearly blind from trachoma at the time and was sent to the Massachusetts State Infirmary. In 1880, she entered the Perkins Institute for the Blind and after two operations; she regained her eyesight to a workable level. But her eyes always were a source of trouble to her all her life. it was on graduating from the institute at the age of 21 that Anne was offered the assignment of Helen Keller.
Anne arrived at Alabama in 1886 with steadfast determination, seething under a patient demeanor. On arrival she encountered the trapped misery of her six year old ward. Unable to perform the everyday sundry actions like washing her face and buttoning her shoes, Helen’s pathetic condition faced her with a formidable challenge. Anne‘s own experience with a handicap, equipped her well to understand the anguish of this tortured soul. To build a bond of trust was the first daunting task that Anne tackled. Anne handed a doll to the rampant child, made by the Perkins children. She made her first significant move by spelling the word d-o-I-l into Helen’s hand. Helen was captivated by this novel move and soon she began to imitate Anne. The rapport between the student teacher was established. Anne noted of Helen, "Her restless spirit gropes in the dark. . . . . . . . . Her unsatisfied hands destroy whatever they touch-they do not know what else to do with things".
Helen's education began with her teacher getting to know the dark recesses of her troubled soul. Anne tried to understand the agony and ecstasy of Helen‘s life. She also began to understand Helen's attempt at communication. Anne started to teach Helen to spell words manually. Taking Helen to the pump house, one day Anne drew water. Pouring a mug of water on Helen's hand she spelled the word w-a-t-e-r into her hand. It was a startling revelation for Helen that everything had meaning. Excited with this new method of correlation, Helen pointed out to Anne in a questioning way. Anne then spelt the word t-e-a-c-h-e-r into her hand.
Thus at the age of six Helen Keller started to discover the vistas of the new world that opened before her. Years later Helen recollecting her 1st experience with the new world said, "Somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew that water meant the wonderful cool something that flowed over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free."
Helen learnt to read little sentences that Anne made possible by writing raised words next to their objects that Helen could identify. Within a few months Helen knew 625 words. Anne said, "The eagerness with which she absorbs ideas is delightful. “Helen also learnt to write beautifully and within a month of her training, she wrote a letter to her cousin in legible hand and correctly.
At the age of eight Helen was taken to Perknins institute by Anne. A new world of knowledge opened for Helen. Helen learnt of other people like her and nurtured new associations. She widened her social circle and formed new associations. She learnt Braille and voraciously poured over books from all walks of life. She communicated with other children who knew the manual alphabet. Both physically and mentally this was a very productive period for her. Helen traveled with Anne who painted an exact word picture for her of the gliding landscape, the booming cities, the different type of people and their different way of lifestyles. Helen's education widened and she understood the world around her in totality. Holidaying at Cape Cod, Helen discovered the world of sports. She learnt to swim, ride, row and sail.
In 1890, when Helen was 10 years old she learnt of a deaf, dumb and blind Norwegian girl who had been taught to talk. Anne took Helen there who met Sarah Fuller. the principal of the Horace Mann School for Deaf in Boston. Miss Fuller taking Helen’s hand made her feel the movements of the jaw and teeth and tongue as she (Miss Fuller) spoke. She made sounds of as in "it" several times. Helen picked up this technique and thus began her first tryst with speech. She learnt the vowels and soon she could distinctly speak the words mama and papa. Going home after her seventh lesson
Helen said in “hollow, breathy tones”—"| am not dumb now.”
Helen entered the Gilman School for Young Ladies at Cambridge and was heavily tutored. She entered Radcliff in 1900 and was the first individual with a triple handicap to enter the portals of this prestigious institution. Helen was 24 when she graduates with special honors in English. By this time she was a national celebrity. She was corresponding with well known figures like Graham Bell who not only was a keen admirer of her spirit but became a good friend to her. After training her voice she began giving public appearances to inspire people more fortunate than her. Her tall graceful personality full of charm and humour and her invincible spirit captivated the audience nation wide. Oliver Wendell Holmes wept when she Tennyson's “Break, break, break". In 1913, she made her first public appearance. "My mind froze." Helen recollected later. Though words rose to her lips, she was unable to utter even a single syllable at first. Then she uttered a single sound that sounded like a cannon ball going off, but it actually was only a whisper!
By 1914 Helen was an international speaker. She worked tirelessly for the blind, raising money for them and inspiring them through her own example. At this time a young Scottish girl, Polly Thompson joined them as their secretary and manager. Signing a contract with Hollywood they made the film Deliverence. Helen participated in vaudeville acts that she loved very much. She felt alive and refreshed at the close interaction that such a performance entailed. Helen wrote many books. Her books were published in many languages, as well as in Braille. She wrote, The Story of My Life (1902), The World I Live In (1908), Out of The Dark (1913), Midstream—My Later Life (1930), Let us have faith (1940), Teacher 1 Anne Sullivan Macy (1955), and The Open Door (1957). The motion picture The Unconquered (1954) and the play The Miracle Worker are based on her life. She visited many foreign lands and received rare honours in many countries. Helen's contribution to the handicapped after World War ll, adds a generous dimension to her social work. She visited American hospitals and lectured in Europe on behalf of the physically handicapped.
In 1936 Anne died after a steady deterioration of her eyesight. It was a great loss to Helen who not only lost a teacher but a friend and a companion of a life time. Before her death someone said, “Teacher . . . . . get we“. Without you Helen would be nothing."
"Then-then I have failed," Anne said. After Anne’s death Helen picking up the reigns of life continued to make the world a better place for the blind all over the world. She became a pillar of strength for the American Foundation for the Blind. She lived with Miss Thompson in a picturesque hues set in the Connecticut woods near Westport with a stone Japanese lantern eight feet high constantly burning in a symbolic veneration of Helen‘s struggle. Helen died in 1968, just before her 88th birthday.

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