The Story of My Life

Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan Character Analysis

Helen Keller’s teacher, Miss Anne Sullivan, was the most profound influence on Helen’s life and her dearest companion. Miss Sullivan came to Tuscumbia, Alabama in the spring of Helen’s sixth year, and Helen writes of her arrival in reverent terms and Biblical allegories. Miss Sullivan set about teaching Helen sign language and the manual alphabet right away, and after a short period of false starts and adjustments, Helen experienced a breakthrough when Miss Sullivan held Helen’s hand beneath a water pump and signed the word “water” into her palm. From that moment on, Helen became a voracious learner, excited to acquire as many words and expressions as she could and impress both her parents and her beloved teacher. Miss Sullivan was Helen’s constant companion throughout not just her childhood, but her college years and even beyond. When Helen, toward the end of the novel, concludes that the story of her life has been made as interesting and wonderful as it is solely by virtue of the friendships she has known, it is Miss Sullivan who tops the list of her most profound influences and most steadfast friends. Miss Sullivan is patient and kind, but also challenges Helen, and introduces her to the beauty, majesty, terror, and wonder of nature. Miss Sullivan is closely related to the memoir’s major themes of determination and perseverance, storytelling and communication, education, and friendship, community and goodwill.

Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan Quotes in The Story of My Life

The The Story of My Life quotes below are all either spoken by Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan or refer to Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The Story of My Life published in 1996.
Chapter 1  Quotes

I fancy I still have confused recollections of that illness. I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my waking hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall, away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day. But, except for these fleeting memories, if, indeed, they be memories, it all seems very unreal, like a nightmare. Gradually I got used to the silence and darkness that surrounded me and forgot that it had ever been different, until she came—my teacher—who was to set my spirit free. But during the first nineteen months of my life I had caught glimpses of broad, green fields, a luminous sky, trees and flowers which the darkness that followed could not wholly blot out. If we have once seen, “the day is ours, and what the day has shown.”

Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

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 harbor was. “Light! Give me light!” was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour.

Related Characters: Helen Keller (speaker), Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7 Quotes

My teacher is so near to me that I scarcely think of myself apart from her. How much of my delight in all beautiful things is innate, and how much is due to her influence, I can never tell. I feel that her being is inseparable from my own, and that the footsteps of my life are in hers. All the best of me belongs to her—there is not a talent, or an inspiration or a joy in me that has not awakened by her loving touch.

Related Characters: Helen Keller (speaker), Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan
Related Symbols: Nature
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 13 Quotes

I would not rest satisfied until my teacher took me, for advice and assistance, to Miss Sarah Fuller, principal of the Horace Mann School. This lovely, sweet-natured lady offered to teach me herself, and we began the twenty-sixth of March, 1890. Miss Fuller’s method was this: she passed my hand lightly over her face, and let me feel the position of her tongue and lips when she made a sound. I was eager to imitate every motion and in an hour had learned six elements of speech. Miss Fuller gave me eleven lessons in all. I shall never forget the surprise and delight I felt when I uttered my first connected sentence, “It is warm.” True, they were broken and stammering syllables, but they were human speech. My soul, conscious of new strength, came out of bondage, and was reaching through those broken symbols of speech to all knowledge and face. […] As I talked, happy thoughts fluttered up out of my words that might perhaps have struggled in vain to escape my fingers.

Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
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Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan Character Timeline in The Story of My Life

The timeline below shows where the character Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan appears in The Story of My Life. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2 
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...and once locked her mother in the pantry for three hours. Later, when Helen’s teacher Miss Sullivan came to stay, she would repeat this clever trick, forcing Miss Sullivan to be lowered... (full context)
Chapter 3
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 4
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
Helen remembers the day on which her teacher, Miss Anne Mansfield Sullivan , came to Tuscumbia as the most important one of her life. Years and years... (full context)
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
On Miss Sullivan’s first morning in Tuscumbia, she gave Helen a porcelain doll—a gift from the children at... (full context)
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
One afternoon some time later, Miss Sullivan, frustrated by Helen’s inability to grasp language, attempted to present Helen with two different types... (full context)
Chapter 5
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...learned more about the world around her, she began to feel a “kinship” with it. Miss Sullivan often took Helen for walks through the fields, and Helen had her first lessons in... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...experience, however, which taught her that nature is not always kind. One day Helen and Miss Sullivan stopped to rest in the shade of a large tree, and Miss Sullivan helped Helen... (full context)
Chapter 6
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
As Helen learned more and more about language, she began to ask Miss Sullivan more and more questions about the world. One morning, before Helen knew many words, she... (full context)
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...groups, she found herself struggling to concentrate and figure out what she had done wrong. Miss Sullivan pointed to Helen’s forehead and signed the word “think” into her palm, and suddenly Helen... (full context)
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
Helen explains that Miss Sullivan always spoke to Helen with the eloquence she would use to speak to any speaking... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...was learning how to read. After Helen could spell a few words in sign language, Miss Sullivan began giving her pieces of cardboard upon which words were printed in raised letters. As... (full context)
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...time—in the early days of her education, everything felt more like play than work, and Miss Sullivan used stories and poems to illustrate many concepts for Helen. Miss Sullivan had a “peculiar... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
...her father’s garden and feel the flowers beneath her hands, occasionally catching insects as well. Miss Sullivan would often take Helen down to a lumber wharf on the Tennessee River, and there... (full context)
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...raising tadpoles in a glass globe. She learned about life from life itself, and credits Miss Sullivan, again with, pointing out “the beauty that is in everything.” Miss Sullivan made the first... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...beautiful things and in the natural world is innate, and how much is due to Miss Sullivan’s influence. Helen also feels that Miss Sullivan’s being is “inseparable” from her own being, and... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
Helen writes that the first Christmas after Miss Sullivan came to Tuscumbia was “a great event.” Together, Miss Sullivan and Helen prepared surprises for... (full context)
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...surprises for her scattered all through the house, but the best present of all was Miss Sullivan’s gift—a canary, which Helen named Little Tim. (full context)
Chapter 9
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In May of 1888, Helen, her mother, and Miss Sullivan took a journey by train to Boston to the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Helen... (full context)
Chapter 10
Education Theme Icon
Just before the Perkins Institution closed for the summer, Miss Sullivan and Helen decided to spend their vacation in Cape Cod. As soon as Helen and... (full context)
Chapter 11
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
In the fall, Helen and Miss Sullivan returned to Alabama with full hearts and happy memories. Helen spent the autumn with her... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
...ran over a deep gorge, and were supported by a large trestle. One day, Mildred, Miss Sullivan, and Helen became lost in the woods, but at last spotted the trestle. They walked... (full context)
Chapter 12
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...by the contrasting beauty and bleakness of winter. During a snowstorm one afternoon, Helen and Miss Sullivan rushed outside to feel the flakes falling, but as the storm worsened, they retreated inside... (full context)
Chapter 13
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...had been taught to speak, and soon was “on fire with eagerness” to learn herself. Miss Sullivan took Helen to study with Miss Sarah Fuller, the principal of the Horace Mann School,... (full context)
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...learned the elements of speech. Her teachers could understand her, but most others could not. Miss Sullivan helped Helen daily to practice her speech, and though even now Miss Sullivan still corrects... (full context)
Chapter 14
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
...the autumn after she had learned how to speak. While up at the country house, Miss Sullivan had described to Helen the beauty of the autumn foliage, and Helen, reflecting upon this... (full context)
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
When the story was finished, Helen read it aloud to Miss Sullivan, who corrected her pronunciation and praised her for her hard work. That night at dinner,... (full context)
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
...however, one of Helen’s teachers asked her about the story, and when Helen answered that Miss Sullivan had told her about Jack Frost and the turning of the autumn leaves up at... (full context)
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
...of teachers and officers of the Perkins Institution, and forced to answer their questions without Miss Sullivan present. Helen was so upset and so nervous that she could hardly speak, but tried... (full context)
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
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Miss Sullivan tracked a copy of the original “Frost Fairies” stories to the summer home of a... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...was still nervous and “excessively scrupulous” about everything she wrote, and she often confessed to Miss Sullivan that she was second-guessing herself and worried that the things she was writing were not... (full context)
Education Theme Icon
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
In the summer of 1893 Helen and Miss Sullivan attended the World’s Fair with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell. Helen’s imagination was enlivened by all... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...City. In October of that year, Helen went to New York, accompanied, of course, by Miss Sullivan . There, Helen trained in vocal culture and lip reading, but also studied arithmetic, geography,... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Once at the Cambridge School, Helen had Miss Sullivan attend classes with her and interpret what her instructors were saying. Her teachers at the... (full context)
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Helen, however, encountered some setbacks to her education early on. Miss Sullivan could not spell out all of Helen’s required reading into her hands, and Helen had... (full context)
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...many of them even learned sign language so that they could communicate with Helen without Miss Sullivan needing to translate. (full context)
Chapter 19
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
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...classes were very large, and she did not receive any special instruction from her teachers. Miss Sullivan was tasked with translating and interpreting for Helen, and for the first time in their... (full context)
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
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Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...still could not see the figures being drawn on the blackboard, she needed to have Miss Sullivan make shapes for her on a cushion with straight and curved wires. This process was... (full context)
Determination and Perseverance Theme Icon
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...a family friend’s country home, from February to July. In October of 1898, Helen and Miss Sullivan returned to Boston and continued lessons with the private tutor, and Helen’s college preparation went... (full context)
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...exams for entrance to Radcliffe over the course of two days. The college authorities barred Miss Sullivan from sitting with Helen during her exams and reading the papers to her, so one... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Very few of Helen’s course books are printed for the blind, and so Miss Sullivan spells many of them directly into Helen’s hands. Because of this, Helen needs more time... (full context)
Chapter 22
Storytelling and Communication Theme Icon
Last year, as soon as her exams were over, Helen and Miss Sullivan traveled to Wrentham, where they have a little cottage on a lake. The thoughts of... (full context)
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In the countryside, Helen takes leisurely walks and rides on her and Miss Sullivan’s tandem bicycle. Her dog often accompanies her on these outings—she has had many pets over... (full context)
Chapter 23
Friendship, Community, and Goodwill Theme Icon
...the most important friendships in Helen’s life has been that which she has shared with Dr. Alexander Graham Bell , the man who led her to Miss Sullivan and whose love for children and... (full context)