Helen Keller’s memoir is suffused with loving descriptions and carefully-rendered imagery of the natural world. Helen appreciated nature and animals before her illness, and even in the months directly following it, but when her teacher, Anne Sullivan, came to Tuscumbia to help Helen learn how to speak and read, she instilled in Helen a deep and abiding love of the natural world. With Miss Sullivan at her side, Helen enjoys canoeing under the moon at night, recognizes the mimosa tree in her parents’ yard by its familiar scent, delights in the quiet of the countryside, toboggans through fresh-fallen snow, and tends to all manner of animals, from dogs to canaries to insects she finds in the garden. Throughout her autobiography, Helen repeatedly points out the irony she believes her readers must sense in a blind and deaf woman taking such delight in things she cannot see or hear, but insists that her experience of nature is just as full, exciting, and nourishing as that of any hearing or seeing person. Throughout the text, nature serves as a symbol for Helen’s determination and perseverance in the face of her disabilities, and also acts as a reminder of the ways in which society is all too quick to diminish the pleasure and happiness disabled people feel each day, instead dramatizing their struggles and making it more difficult for disabled communities to claim agency within and over their own narratives. Each time Helen finds herself in nature, it is a reminder of the fact that she does not have to be isolated by her disabilities. Her blindness and deafness are obstacles, to be sure, but they do not have to hold her back from the things she loves or the chance at a life full of the same pleasures any sighted or hearing person enjoys. Thus, throughout the memoir nature symbolizes Helen’s deep sense of connection to the world despite the disabilities that once kept her so isolated.
Nature Quotes in The Story of My Life
We read and studied out of doors, preferring the sunlit woods to the house. All my early lessons have in them the breath of the woods—the fine, resinous odour of pine needles, blended with the perfume of wild grapes. Seated in the gracious shade of a wild tulip tree, I learned to think that everything has a lesson and a suggestion. “The loveliness of things taught me all their use.” Indeed, everything that could hum, or buzz, or sing, or bloom, had a part in my education—noisy-throated frogs, katydids and crickets held in my hand until, forgetting their embarrassment, they trilled their reedy note, little downy chickens and wildflowers, the dogwood blossoms, meadow-violets and budding fruit trees.
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.
It seems strange to many people that I should be impressed by the wonders and beauties of Niagara. They are always asking: what does this beauty or that music mean to you? You cannot see the waves rolling up the beach or hear their roar. What do they mean to you?” In the most evident sense they mean everything. I cannot fathom or define their meaning any more than I can fathom or define love or religion or goodness.
While my days at Radcliffe were still in the future, they were encircled with a halo of romance, which they have lost; but in the transition from romantic to actual I have learned many things I should never have known had I not tried the experiment. One of them is the precious science of patience, which teaches us that we should take our education as we would take a walk in the country, leisurely, our minds hospitably open to impressions of every sort. Such knowledge floods the soul unseen with a soundless tidal wave of deepening thought. “Knowledge is power.” Rather, knowledge is happiness, because to have knowledge—broad, deep knowledge—is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low. 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 in these pulsations a heavenward striving, one must indeed be deaf to the harmonies of life.