Part I: Chapters 18-23

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. laborious
    characterized by effort to the point of exhaustion
    Nevertheless, in the goodness of her heart she laboriously spelled out her instructions to me in special lessons twice a week, to give Miss Sullivan a little rest.
  2. drudgery
    hard, monotonous, routine work
    But, though everybody was kind and ready to help us, there was only one hand that could turn drudgery into pleasure.
  3. ordeal
    a severe or trying experience
    This encouraged me greatly, and I sped on to the end of the ordeal with a light heart and a steady hand.
  4. aptitude
    inherent ability
    Algebra and geometry were the only studies that continued to defy my efforts to comprehend them. As I have said before, I had no aptitude for mathematics; the different points were not explained to me as fully as I wished.
  5. remonstrate
    argue in protest or opposition
    Just before the books came, Mr. Gilman had begun to remonstrate with Miss Sullivan on the ground that I was working too hard, and in spite of my earnest protestations, he reduced the number of my recitations.
  6. perplexing
    lacking clarity of meaning
    Mr. Gilman at first agreed to this; but when my tasks had become somewhat perplexing, he insisted that I was overworked, and that I should remain at his school three years longer.
  7. notation
    a technical system of symbols to represent special things
    To my dismay I found that it was in the American notation. I sat down immediately and wrote to Mr. Vining, asking him to explain the signs. I received another paper and a table of signs by return mail, and I set to work to learn the notation.
  8. consolation
    the comfort you feel when soothed in times of disappointment
    But if they unintentionally placed obstacles in my way, I have the consolation of knowing that I overcame them all.
  9. debar
    prevent from entering; keep out
    Debarred from the great highways of knowledge, I was compelled to make the journey across country by unfrequented roads—that was all; and I knew that in college there were many bypaths where I could touch hands with girls who were thinking, loving and struggling like me.
  10. improvident
    not supplying something useful for the future
    I suppose I ought to find some comfort in the thought that I am laying up treasures for future enjoyment, but I am improvident enough to prefer present joy to hoarding riches against a rainy day.
  11. chafe
    disturb, especially by minor irritations
    There are days when the close attention I must give to details chafes my spirit, and the thought that I must spend hours reading a few chapters, while in the world without other girls are laughing and singing and dancing, makes me rebellious; but I soon recover my buoyancy and laugh the discontent out of my heart.
  12. vivacious
    vigorous and animated
    The lectures were always interesting, vivacious, witty; for the instructor, Mr. Charles Townsend Copeland, more than any one else I have had until this year, brings before you literature in all its original freshness and power.
  13. hypothesis
    a tentative insight that is not yet verified or tested
    Again and again I ask impatiently, "Why concern myself with these explanations and hypotheses?"
  14. interminable
    tiresomely long; seemingly without end
    I object only to the interminable comments and bewildering criticisms that teach but one thing: there are as many opinions as there are men.
  15. encumbered
    loaded to excess or impeded by a heavy load
    When one reads hurriedly and nervously, having in mind written tests and examinations, one's brain becomes encumbered with a lot of choice bric-a-brac for which there seems to be little use.
  16. heterogeneous
    consisting of elements not of the same kind or nature
    At the present time my mind is so full of heterogeneous matter that I almost despair of ever being able to put it in order.
  17. unpalatable
    not pleasant or acceptable to the taste or mind
    The days before these ordeals take place are spent in cramming your mind with mystic formula and indigestible dates— unpalatable diets, until you wish that books and science and you were buried in the depths of the sea.
  18. discrimination
    the cognitive process whereby stimuli are distinguished
    It is most perplexing and exasperating that just at the moment when you need your memory and a nice sense of discrimination, these faculties take to themselves wings and fly away.
  19. lofty
    of high moral or intellectual value
    Rather, knowledge is happiness, because to have knowledge—broad, deep knowledge—is to know true ends from false, and lofty things from low.
  20. circumscribe
    restrict or confine
    Circumscribed as my life was in so many ways, I had to look between the covers of books for news of the world that lay outside my own.
  21. cynical
    believing the worst of human nature and motives
    I do not object so much to the cynical and satirical fables as to those in which momentous truths are taught by monkeys and foxes.
  22. caricature
    a representation of a person exaggerated for comic effect
    But I love "The Jungle Book" and "Wild Animals I Have Known." I feel a genuine interest in the animals themselves, because they are real animals and not caricatures of men.
  23. creed
    any system of principles or beliefs
    Love like Ruth's, love which can rise above conflicting creeds and deep-seated racial prejudices, is hard to find in all the world.
  24. vehement
    marked by extreme intensity of emotions or convictions
    The German puts strength before beauty, and truth before convention, both in life and in literature. There is a vehement, sledge-hammer vigour about everything that he does. When he speaks, it is not to impress others, but because his heart would burst if he did not find an outlet for the thoughts that burn in his soul.
  25. palpable
    capable of being perceived
    I like many writers for many reasons—Carlyle for his ruggedness and scorn of shams; Wordsworth, who teaches the oneness of man and nature; I find an exquisite pleasure in the oddities and surprises of Hood, in Herrick's quaintness and the palpable scent of lily and rose in his verses...
  26. rectitude
    righteousness as a consequence of being honorable and honest
    ...I like Whittier for his enthusiasms and moral rectitude.
  27. optimism
    the hopeful feeling that all is going to turn out well
    I love all writers whose minds, like Lowell's, bubble up in the sunshine of optimism—fountains of joy and good will, with occasionally a splash of anger and here and there a healing spray of sympathy and pity.
  28. discourse
    extended verbal expression in speech or writing
    No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourse of my book-friends.
  29. impetuous
    marked by violent force
    Tacking and jibbing, we wrestled with opposing winds that drove us from side to side with impetuous fury.
  30. tumult
    a state of commotion and noise and confusion
    The rumble and roar of the city smite the nerves of my face, and I feel the ceaseless tramp of an unseen multitude, and the dissonant tumult frets my spirit.
  31. thwarted
    disappointingly unsuccessful
    I have felt their hard, rough hands and realized what an endless struggle their existence must be—no more than a series of scrimmages, thwarted attempts to do something.
  32. disparity
    inequality or difference in some respect
    Their life seems an immense disparity between effort and opportunity.
  33. idle
    not in action or at work
    If I happen to be all alone and in an idle mood, I play a game of solitaire, of which I am very fond. I use playing cards marked in the upper right-hand corner with braille symbols which indicate the value of the card.
  34. pantomime
    a performance using gestures and movements without words
    If I do not succeed they resort to dumb show. Sometimes I make a mistake and do the wrong thing. A burst of childish laughter greets my blunder, and the pantomime begins all over again.
  35. blunder
    an embarrassing mistake
    I followed all his movements with my hands, and caught the drollery of his blunders and gestures in a way that would have been impossible had it all been spelled to me.
  36. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority
    Fain would I question his imperious decree, for my heart is still undisciplined and passionate; but my tongue will not utter the bitter, futile words that rise to my lips, and they fall back into my heart like unshed tears.
  37. discontent
    a longing for something better than the present situation
    Perhaps we never saw them before, and they may never cross our life's path again; but the influence of their calm, mellow natures is a libation poured upon our discontent, and we feel its healing touch, as the ocean feels the mountain stream freshening its brine.
  38. exasperating
    extremely annoying or displeasing
    I also dislike people who try to talk down to my understanding. They are like people who when walking with you try to shorten their steps to suit yours; the hypocrisy in both cases is equally exasperating.
  39. eloquent
    expressing yourself readily, clearly, effectively
    The hands of those I meet are dumbly eloquent to me.
  40. impertinence
    the trait of being rude and inclined to take liberties
    The touch of some hands is an impertinence.
  41. philosophical
    relating to the investigation of existence and knowledge
    Since Bishop Brooks died I have read the Bible through; also some philosophical works on religion, among them Swedenborg's "Heaven and Hell" and Drummond's "Ascent of Man," and I have found no creed or system more soul-satisfying than Bishop Brooks's creed of love.
  42. liberator
    someone who releases people from captivity or bondage
    Afterward we went into his study, and he wrote his autograph for my teacher ["With great admiration of thy noble work in releasing from bondage the mind of thy dear pupil, I am truly thy friend. John J. Whittier."] and expressed his admiration of her work, saying to me, "She is thy spiritual liberator."
  43. abstruse
    difficult to understand
    Dr. Bell is proficient in many fields of science, and has the art of making every subject he touches interesting, even the most abstruse theories.
  44. epigram
    a witty saying
    I could not keep pace with all these literary folk as they glanced from subject to subject and entered into deep dispute, or made conversation sparkle with epigrams and happy witticisms.
  45. serene
    not agitated
    Thus it is that my friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation.
Created on September 29, 2017 (updated October 5, 2017)

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