Sunday, October 7, 2012

Helen Keller's life. A movie and her book

Helen Adams Keller was a healthy child until a fever robbed her of her sight and hearing when she was nineteen months old. Her parents were desperate and puzzled, and did not know what to do with her. Yet this woman eventually learned to read, write and speak. She even graduated with honors from Radcliffe College in Massachusetts in 1904.  The fact that she was raised in a far off town in Alabama in the late 1800s made her journey even more challenging.
 I watched the black-and-white movie "A Miracle Worker" which focuses on Helen Keller's childhood. It touched me deeply. The greatest accomplishment of the movie was to kindle my curiosity. I wanted to learn more about the cave of darkness and silence she lived in, and how she was able to finally make sense of the world. Right after seeing this movie I came across her autobiography, "The Story of My Life".
 Her path to understand that signs with hands were associated with real objects and words was not an easy one, but her ultimate discovery is a unique experience that can bring hope to the saddest soul.
  If you are longing to see a movie that will uplift you and make you feel hopeful, this is a good one to pick. Helen Keller's parents did their best for her, but Helen was like a violent animal who did not respect civilized rules until Anne Sullivan, her teacher, came to her life three days before she turned seven years old. Anne Sullivan had been blind herself and so she was able to help her from a unique position. It was not an easy endeavor and the movie portrays it with details that will test your patience.
  Helen described how her life changed after she met Anne Sullivan:
 "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 a beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before any education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbor was. I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my hand as I supposed to 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."
  In my opinion,the only weakness of the movie is the distorted way of portraying Helen's parents' love for her, as  if this had been a contributing factor to her misery during the first childhood years, before they met their teacher. On the contrary, their love played an important role even though they did not know how to set boundaries. Her father also had some misconceptions that were not in her best interest, but Anne Sullivan made the big difference here. Anyway, my point is that it was not their love that caused the initial failure but their lack of guidance and insight on how to raise her.
  Helen's Autobiography has many interesting insights and reflections about different subjects. One of them is her college experience. Reading her book also helped me to understand that disabilities are compensated for by other "abilities" and sensitivities.
 "The touch of some hands is an impertinence. I have met people so empty of joy, that when I clasped their frosty finger tips it seemed as if I were shaking hands with a northeast storm. Others there are whose hands have sunbeams in them, so that their grasp warms my heart. It may be only the clinging touch of a child's hand, but there is much potential sunshine in it for me as there is a loving glance for others. A hearty handshake or a friendly letter gives me a genuine pleasure."
 Much of Helen's adult life was spent bettering the conditions of blind and deaf people. Her lectures and writings brought hope and encouragement to blind people throughout the world. I can say without hesitation that she is an inspiration to all of us.





13 comments:

  1. This sounds like one I'd really enjoy. Will add it to my list. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Karen. The book is tiny so it doesn't take long to read it.

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  2. Great post! Loved that film, though I haven't seen it in ages. Loved the book, too. My son just had to read about Helen Keller for his class and I loved revising her story.

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    1. Whoops - I meant revisiting her story. Would never revise such a perfect story! : )

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    2. Good to know that schools pay attention to her life, Kimberly! It is inspiring.

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  3. She was one of the most inspiring personalities of all time. This should be a terrific read for anyone.

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    1. I agree with you, JJ. Thanks for stopping by.

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  4. I can remember reading an excerpt from her biography when I was in high school and I found it so inspiring. I still remember her listing of things she would want to see if she had sight for a day, and a sunset was one of them. I loved the movie, The Miracle Worker, and saw it more than once. The movie really did her story justice. Thanks for this wonderful reminder of a remarkable woman.

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    1. You are welcome, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing your memory.

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  5. Hi Julia ... this is such an interesting review - our perception of what others can or can't do is always so opinionated ... and it's 'funny' that so often the person comprehends/understands in a different way.

    I have since my mother and uncle were both ill been buying a few books on disabilities/illness ... so I'll add this book and DVD to the list .. they do educate us - or should do if we take time to read them, to understand. (Something I know I wouldn't have been interested in 10 years ago, but now my perceptions are different).

    Thanks so much for posting ... and I'll link across here when I reply to your comment on the ParaOlympic post I recently put up ...

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/british-paraorchestra.html

    it's here, if anyone who reads Julia's blog would like to look ...

    I've known about Helen Keller's story ... but will be interested to find out more .. great post - have a good weekend .. Hilary

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    1. Thanks so much for posting the link. I should have done so in my own blog. Your comment is insightful. Challenging painful experiences make us stronger, wiser and more sensitive to what others have to go through...

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  6. We have same inspiration here, Julia.
    I knew Helen Keller's life story and watched "Miracle Worker" long time ago, and only a couple of years ago, my interest was revived and I read some biographies of her and her teacher, include her autobio. The most impressive bio I read is "Beyond The Miracle Worker" (by Kim E Nielsen), a comprehensive life story of Anne Sullivan. In a sense I found Sullivan's life is more fascinating to me. She seemed to be very troubled, and her miserable childhood affected her in her life time. More interestingly, until her death, she was not completely comfortable with her devotion to Helen Keller.

    I agree with you that Helen's parents did nothing wrong. Love cannot be wrong. Helen's wild behavior before Sullivan's coming I think came from her increasing need to "understand", yet her stagnant unenlightened mental faculty.

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    1. Thanks, Yun!
      I'm glad we are on the same page. How interesting! I didn't know all that about Sullivan. Thank you for reading and commenting!

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