As Helen grew older, her desire to express herself grew as well. The few signs she could make became inadequate, and as her despair grew, she became prone to more and more intense fits and tantrums. Her parents were “grieved and perplexed,” as they lived very far from any school for the blind or deaf, and did not think they’d be able to get a special tutor for Helen to come all the way out to their little town of Tuscumbia. Moreover, Helen’s parents wondered, as bad as her behavior often was, whether she could even be taught.
Helen soon outgrew the crude signs that she and her parents used to communicate with one another, and her frustrations became too much for her poor parents to manage. They didn’t know what to do, as their home was so remote, and weren’t even sure that if they were able to secure a tutor for their mercurial daughter, she’d be able to have a normal education or ever learn to communicate properly.
When Helen was about six, her father arranged to take her to a renowned oculist in Baltimore in hopes that something could be done to help her eyesight. Helen went with her parents and her aunt by train up to Baltimore, and she remembers how everyone on the train—her own family, other passengers, and even the conductor—helped play with her and keep her busy throughout the journey. Helen did not have one tantrum the entire way to Maryland.
Helen’s parents, desperate to make things better for their beloved daughter, took her on a journey to pursue a way to open up Helen’s dark, quiet world. Helen found joy in the community of friends, strangers, and family alike on the train, and this connection lessened her feelings of isolation and incommunicativeness.
In Baltimore, the oculist received the Kellers kindly, but could not do anything for Helen’s eyes. Nevertheless, he advised them to get in touch with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell, who would be able to give the Kellers information about schools and teachers for deaf and blind children. The Kellers then went immediately to Washington to visit Dr. Bell, who was kind and loving toward Helen. She did not know then that their meeting with the famous inventor “would be the door thorough which [she would] pass from darkness into light.”
Though the oculist could not help the Kellers, they were determined to pursue any lead which might give Helen some hope for a brighter future. Dr. Bell, the famed inventor, was renowned for his philanthropy and love of children, and Helen to this day credits him with changing her life and allowing “light” into her world.
Dr. Bell told the Kellers to write to the director of the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, Mr. Anagnos, and ask if a teacher would come to Alabama to begin Helen’s education. Helen’s father did so at once, and within weeks a letter from Mr. Anagnos came back—a teacher had been found. The following March, Miss Sullivan arrived in Tuscumbia. Helen writes that she herself “came up out of Egypt and stood before Sinai, and a power divine touched [her] spirit and gave it sight, so that [she] beheld many wonders.”
Though Helen, at the time, did not know that Miss Sullivan was on her way to her, looking back at this time in her life Helen is able to understand and appreciate how desperately she needed Miss Sullivan, and how radically Miss Sullivan would come to change her life and open her up to the world around her. The reference to Sinai in this passage is an allusion to the biblical story of Moses receiving the ten commandments from God. It suggests that Sullivan’s intervention into Helen’s life was divine.