“No matter how dull, or how mean, or how wise a man is,
he feels that happiness is his indisputable right” (Helen Keller)
Helen Keller - a name maybe not known or heard by so many people, but one that engraved itself and stayed in the disabled persons’ minds and not only, forever. Not only that she became known in the United States of America, but she succeeded in writing many books and “speaking” to others with the help of her instructor or companion. She motivated several people in the same condition and had great influence, being of course admired for her way of overcoming her handicaps.
“<<The beginning of my life was simple and much like every other little life>>, Helen wrote. <<I came, I saw, I conquered, as the first baby in the family always does>>” (Sullivan, 2000:11).
Helen Adams Keller was born in Tuscumbia, a village in Alabama on June 27, 1880. She was Kate and Arthur Keller’s first child. Her father “had been a captain in the Confederate army during the Civil War. Afterwards, he owned a large plantation on which cotton was grown. He also owned a weekly newspaper” (2000:11). Her mother (twenty years younger than her husband, who was 42) was a housewife, as she helped run the farm, cooked, sewed etc. They were happily living in a house covered with ivy (it was named “Ivy Green”) and surrounded by huge trees, as Sullivan relates.
Helen appeared to be an intelligent and beautiful child. “It was said that at the age of six months she could say <<How d’ye>> and <<tea tea tea>>” (2000:13) and at the same time she learned the meaning of water which she pronounced “wah-wah”. When she was one year old, exactly on her birthday, she took her first steps. Her parents were very happy, and no one would have ever guessed by then that this little eager child would become sick and damaged forever.
As time passed, little Helen reached 19 months, in 1882, and then she became ill with a very high fever, believed to have been the scarlet fever or meningitis, but her doctor of that time called it “fever of the brain and stomach” and thought she might not live. However, after some time has passed, the fever left, but the baby girl was far from being healthy. Soon after this, her parents saw her tossing and turning while sleeping and when they would call her name she wouldn’t respond at all. She kept her eyes wide opened, “even if her mother put a hand close to Helen’s face or bathed the child” (Sullivan, 2000:13-14). They soon realized the awful truth that was standing right in front of their eyes: their daughter lost the ability to hear or see anything.
Helen’s “new” and, what seemed to be horrible, life in darkness and silence, while in a world of light and noises, had just begun. Sadly she had not the opportunity to learn how to speak before this moment, and the only few “words” she could say were soon to be forgotten, as she couldn’t hear, her speech was affected as well. She would cry when she wanted something or was in pain. She would grunt when something pleased her. But these were the only sounds she made. Because she could not express herself or understand anyone, Helen was often angry. [...] She would sometimes hit, bite, or pinch other people (Sullivan, 2000:16).
There are o more words needed to understand that she was hard to live with. Some of her relatives even thought of her as “a monster” and suggested that she should be sent to an asylum, but her mother never accepted such a thing. Soon, Helen came to some sort of an understanding of her condition, an extraordinary achievement for a little girl of her age with those kinds of problems. She developed a personal way of communicating with the ones around her which she later explained: A shake of the head meant ‘No’ and a nod ‘Yes’, a pull meant ‘Come’ and a push ‘Go’. Was it bread that I wanted? Then I would imitate the acts of slicing and buttering...