The Story of My Life
Helen Keller

Chapter IV

The most important day I remember in all my life is the one on which my teacher, Anne Mansfield Sullivan, came to me. I am filled with wonder when I consider the immeasurable contrasts between the two lives which it connects. It was the third of March, 1887, three months before I was seven years old.

On the afternoon of that eventful day, I stood on the porch,
dumb, expectant. I guessed vaguely from my mother's signs and
from the hurrying to and fro in the house that something unusual
was about to happen, so I went to the door and waited on the
steps. The afternoon sun penetrated the mass of honeysuckle that
covered the porch, and fell on my upturned face. My fingers
lingered almost unconsciously on the familiar leaves and blossoms
which had just come forth to greet the sweet southern spring. I
did not know what the future held of marvel or surprise for me.
Anger and bitterness had preyed upon me continually for weeks and
a deep languor had succeeded this passionate struggle.

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 harbour was. "Light! give me light!" was the
wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in
that very hour.

I felt approaching footsteps, I stretched out my hand as I
supposed to my mother. Some one 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.

The morning after my teacher came she led me into her room and
gave me a doll. The little blind children at the Perkins
Institution had sent it and Laura Bridgman had dressed it; but I
did not know this until afterward. When I had played with it a
little while, Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word
"d-o-l-l." I was at once interested in this finger play and tried
to imitate it. When I finally succeeded in making the letters
correctly I was flushed with childish pleasure and pride. Running
downstairs to my mother I held up my hand and made the letters
for doll. I did not know that I was spelling a word or even that
words existed; I was simply making my fingers go in monkey-like
imitation. In the days that followed I learned to spell in this
uncomprehending way a great many words, among them pin, hat, cup
and a few verbs like sit, stand and walk. But my teacher had been
with me several weeks before I understood that everything has a

One day, while I was playing with my new doll, Miss Sullivan put
my big rag doll into my lap also, spelled "d-o-l-l" and tried to
make me understand that "d-o-l-l" applied to both. Earlier in the
day we had had a tussle over the words "m-u-g" and "w-a-t-e-r."
Miss Sullivan had tried to impress it upon me that "m-u-g" is mug
and that "w-a-t-e-r" is water, but I persisted in confounding the
two. In despair she had dropped the subject for the time, only to
renew it at the first opportunity. I became impatient at her
repeated attempts and, seizing the new doll, I dashed it upon the
floor. I was keenly delighted when I felt the fragments of the
broken doll at my feet. Neither sorrow nor regret followed my
passionate outburst. I had not loved the doll. In the still, dark
world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment or
tenderness. I felt my teacher sweep the fragments to one side of
the hearth, and I had a sense of satisfaction that the cause of
my discomfort was removed. She brought me my hat, and I knew I
was going out into the warm sunshine. This thought, if a wordless
sensation may be called a thought, made me hop and skip with

We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the
fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Some one
was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout.
As the cool stream gushed over one hand she spelled into the
other the word water, first slowly, then rapidly. I stood still,
my whole attention fixed upon the motions of her fingers.
Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something
forgotten--a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery
of language was revealed to me. I knew then that "w-a-t-e-r"
meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.
That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set
it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that
could in time be swept away.

I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and
each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the
house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life.
That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight
that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I
had broken. I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces.
I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with
tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I
felt repentance and sorrow.

I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what
they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher
were among them--words that were to make the world blossom for
me, "like Aaron's rod, with flowers." It would have been
difficult to find a happier child than I was as I lay in my crib
at the close of that eventful day and lived over the joys it had
brought me, and for the first time longed for a new day to come.