Prison Break

Ron Paul Curriculum, English 1, Lesson 45

Writing assignment: 500 words on this theme: “Which were the key incidents that led her out of her ‘prison.'”

Helen Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life, is about the events which allowed her to escape from the “prison of silence”. Among them are her first association between hand signs and language at seven years old, her learning of abstract ideas like “Think” and “Love,” and learning to read. She even learned to speak and understand others’ words when she was 10. She went from total non-understanding, to verbal speech.

The first key event, the connection between hand spelling and language, was probably the single biggest step to free Keller from the prison. Anne Sullivan helped her make the leap from being completely isolated, with the exception of simple signs, to being capable of communicating and even receiving complex information. From there, there was nothing stopping her from learning more and more about her surroundings. Now she could freely communicate with anyone who understood sign language.

The next one was her discovery of abstract ideas. Originally, Helen Keller had no idea that there were things that couldn’t be touched. The idea of “Love” baffled her. Then, while trying to get a pattern of beads right, Ms. Sullivan told her, “Think.” Immediately, it clicked. Her understanding of the world was significantly broadened, and the experience opened her mind to the idea of non-physical things. This would, I think, facilitate her ability to later understand hearing and speech.

Anne Sullivan quickly began teaching her to read with raised letters. Beginning with “Doll is on bed,” they played a game arranging everything in a room in object sentences. Then, “it was but a step to the printed book.” She went on to reading chapter books, finishing Black Beauty when she was 10 years old.

Unless Helen had some conscious memory of hearing, speech would have been as abstract as thought and love, maybe more so. She knew of it’s existence, however, and it frustrated her that she was still communicatively isolated from the majority of people who didn’t know sign language, including her little sister. Then she heard how Ragnhild Kaata, another deaf and blind girl, had learned to speak. Keller resolved to learn. First, she learned to understand others’ speech by feeling the vibrations on their throat, lips, and nose. Then it was a matter of replicating the vibrations and tongue positions. She never spoke normally, as she could not hear herself, compare to how everyone else spoke, and adjust accordingly, but it made her understandable to a much greater number of people.

Darkness and boredom aren’t fun. Silence is nice, but not for more than a week. That’s my theory about why it only took Helen Keller three years to learn to use sign language, grasp abstract ideas, read, and learn to speak. That’s like a person who can both see and hear learning to talk, think abstractly, read, and do sign language with their eyes closed *. Through her learning, Helen Keller escaped from her prison. She was no longer isolated from everyone. She had gained the ability to converse and communicate with even some of those who couldn’t use sign language.




* Usually, they start talking, get drafted by the Clone Army (Read: “Public School”), and have roughly a 50% chance of learning to read by the end of high school…   Usually.


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