Part I: Chapters 1-5

This account of Helen Keller's life is divided into three parts: Part I is Keller's autobiography, which she published in 1903; Part II is a selection of Keller's letters; and Part III consists of supplementary materials by Keller's teacher and lifelong friend, Anne Sullivan.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. impression
    a clear and telling mental image
    When I try to classify my earliest impressions, I find that fact and fancy look alike across the years that link the past with the present.
  2. poignancy
    a quality that arouses emotions, especially pity or sorrow
    Besides, many of the joys and sorrows of childhood have lost their poignancy; and many incidents of vital importance in my early education have been forgotten in the excitement of great discoveries.
  3. tedious
    so lacking in interest as to cause mental weariness
    In order, therefore, not to be tedious I shall try to present in a series of sketches only the episodes that seem to me to be the most interesting and important.
  4. singular
    unusual or striking
    One of my Swiss ancestors was the first teacher of the deaf in Zurich and wrote a book on the subject of their education—rather a singular coincidence; though it is true that there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.
  5. disposition
    a natural or acquired habit or characteristic tendency
    I am told that while I was still in long dresses I showed many signs of an eager, self-asserting disposition.
  6. imitate
    reproduce someone's behavior or looks
    Everything that I saw other people do I insisted upon imitating.
  7. unconscious
    lacking awareness and the capacity for sensory perception
    Then, in the dreary month of February, came the illness which closed my eyes and ears and plunged me into the unconsciousness of a new-born baby.
  8. bewilderment
    confusion resulting from failure to understand
    I especially remember the tenderness with which my mother tried to soothe me in my wailing hours of fret and pain, and the agony and bewilderment with which I awoke after a tossing half sleep, and turned my eyes, so dry and hot, to the wall away from the once-loved light, which came to me dim and yet more dim each day.
  9. crude
    not carefully or expertly made
    Soon I felt the need of some communication with others and began to make crude signs.
  10. distinguish
    mark as different
    At five I learned to fold and put away the clean clothes when they were brought in from the laundry, and I distinguished my own from the rest.
  11. invariably
    without change, in every case
    I knew by the way my mother and aunt dressed when they were going out, and I invariably begged to go with them.
  12. vexed
    troubled persistently especially with petty annoyances
    I could not understand, and was vexed.
  13. gesticulate
    show, express, or direct through movement
    I moved my lips and gesticulated frantically without result.
  14. domineer
    rule or exercise power over in a cruel and autocratic manner
    It pleased me to domineer over her, and she generally submitted to my tyranny rather than risk a hand-to-hand encounter.
  15. indifferent
    showing no care or concern in attitude or action
    I was strong, active, indifferent to consequences.
  16. emphatic
    forceful and definite in expression or action
    When we were fortunate enough to find a nest I never allowed her to carry the eggs home, making her understand by emphatic signs that she might fall and break them.
  17. distinct
    clearly or sharply defined to the mind
    Many incidents of those early years are fixed in my memory, isolated, but clear and distinct, making the sense of that silent, aimless, dayless life all the more intense.
  18. induce
    cause to act in a specified manner
    I could not be induced to tell where the key was.
  19. obliged
    having a moral duty to do something
    My father was obliged to get a ladder and take Miss Sullivan out through the window—much to my delight.
  20. recollection
    something recalled to the mind
    My earliest distinct recollection of my father is making my way through great drifts of newspapers to his side and finding him alone, holding a sheet of paper before his face.
  21. indulgent
    given to yielding to the wishes of someone
    My father was most loving and indulgent, devoted to his home, seldom leaving us, except in the hunting season.
  22. presumption
    a kind of discourtesy in the form of taking liberties
    I guarded both doll and cradle with the most jealous care; but once I discovered my little sister sleeping peacefully in the cradle. At this presumption on the part of one to whom as yet no tie of love bound me I grew angry.
  23. solitude
    a state of social isolation
    Thus it is that when we walk in the valley of twofold solitude we know little of the tender affections that grow out of endearing words and actions and companionship.
  24. caprice
    a sudden desire
    But afterward, when I was restored to my human heritage, Mildred and I grew into each other's hearts, so that we were content to go hand-in-hand wherever caprice led us, although she could not understand my finger language, nor I her childish prattle.
  25. prattle
    idle or foolish and irrelevant talk
    But afterward, when I was restored to my human heritage, Mildred and I grew into each other's hearts, so that we were content to go hand-in-hand wherever caprice led us, although she could not understand my finger language, nor I her childish prattle.
  26. frantic
    excessively agitated; distraught with violent emotion
    I felt as if invisible hands were holding me, and I made frantic efforts to free myself.
  27. tempest
    a violent commotion or disturbance
    If my mother happened to be near I crept into her arms, too miserable even to remember the cause of the tempest.
  28. vaguely
    in an unclear way
    She had read his account of Laura Bridgman, and remembered vaguely that she was deaf and blind, yet had been educated.
  29. eminent
    standing above others in quality or position
    When I was about six years old, my father heard of an eminent oculist in Baltimore, who had been successful in many cases that had seemed hopeless.
  30. oculist
    a person skilled in testing for defects of vision
    When I was about six years old, my father heard of an eminent oculist in Baltimore, who had been successful in many cases that had seemed hopeless.
  31. improvise
    manage in a makeshift way; do with whatever is at hand
    My aunt made me a big doll out of towels. It was the most comical shapeless thing, this improvised doll, with no nose, mouth, ears or eyes—nothing that even the imagination of a child could convert into a face.
  32. misgiving
    uneasiness about the fitness of an action
    Acting on the doctor's advice, we went immediately to Washington to see Dr. Bell, my father with a sad heart and many misgivings, I wholly unconscious of his anguish, finding pleasure in the excitement of moving from place to place.
  33. competent
    properly or sufficiently qualified, capable, or efficient
    Dr. Bell advised my father to write to Mr. Anagnos, director of the Perkins Institution in Boston, the scene of Dr. Howe's great labours for the blind, and ask him if he had a teacher competent to begin my education.
  34. tangible
    perceptible by the senses, especially the sense of touch
    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?
  35. grope
    feel about uncertainly or blindly
    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?
  36. tussle
    disorderly fighting
    Earlier in the day we had had a tussle over the words "m-u-g" and "w-a-t-e-r."
  37. sentiment
    tender, romantic, or nostalgic feeling or emotion
    In the still, dark world in which I lived there was no strong sentiment or tenderness.
  38. barrier
    any condition that makes it difficult to make progress
    There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
  39. vain
    unproductive of success
    I felt my way to the hearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together.
  40. kinship
    a close connection marked by common interests or character
    I did nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world.
  41. beneficence
    the quality of being kind or helpful or generous
    When the time of daisies and buttercups came Miss Sullivan took me by the hand across the fields, where men were preparing the earth for the seed, to the banks of the Tennessee River, and there, sitting on the warm grass, I had my first lessons in the beneficence of nature.
  42. precede
    be earlier in time
    I knew it, it was the odour that always precedes a thunderstorm, and a nameless fear clutched at my heart.
  43. subtle
    difficult to detect or grasp by the mind or analyze
    One beautiful spring morning when I was alone in the summer-house, reading, I became aware of a wonderful subtle fragrance in the air.
  44. instinctive
    unthinking
    I started up and instinctively stretched out my hands.
  45. exquisite
    delicately beautiful
    Was there ever anything so exquisitely beautiful in the world before! Its delicate blossoms shrank from the slightest earthly touch; it seemed as if a tree of paradise had been transplanted to earth.
Created on September 27, 2017 (updated October 5, 2017)

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