Monday, October 22, 2012

Annie Sullivan and the Trails of Helen Keller by Joseph Lambert

Annie Sullivan comes from the Perkins Institution for the Blind to work with Helen Keller, and blind and deaf girl with no way of communicating.  Helen is wild and savage, trapped in a silent dark world.  Annie, however, is no shrinking violet, and is determine to get though to Helen, despite the interference of Helen's parents.

This was excellent.  Not only was the story beautifully told, but the visual representation of Helen's world was incredibly striking.

I have never read Helen Keller's The Story of My Life, or anything about Annie Sullivan, but of course I know the story of Annie Sullivan working with Helen and finally having the breakthrough at the water pump.  I'm pretty sure I saw a movie about Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller, but I can't remember which one.  That is all to say I didn't know very much about Annie Sullivan as a person, apart from her work with Helen, and it was fascinating.

Annie had a difficult childhood, dealing with the death of her parents, younger brother, and growing up in an asylum and poorhouse.  She was also partly blind, and couldn't read until she came to Perkins and underwent several operations.  Annie had a temper!  She was not a patient person, which seems like the wrong sort of person to be a teacher, but she was actually exactly what Helen needed.

We learn about Annie's loneliness, and her close relationship with Dr. Michael Anagnos, the director of Perkins Institution.  He was the one who sent Annie to Helen, and he was very proud of both of them.  Annie got frustrated with Perkins taking much of the credit for Helen's achievements.  Annie and Dr. Anagnos had a falling out over a story Helen wrote, and allegedly plagiarized, which I had never heard about.

Annie was often frustrated while working with Helen in Alabama, and it wasn't just Helen that was causing frustration.  Annie lived in New England her whole life, and found the Southern way of doing things enraging.  Annie was not one to hold on politeness and formality.  She often became angry when she felt people were talking down to her, or didn't think she was smart.

I loved how Helen's dark world was represented.  At the beginning, when things are from Helen's point of view, everything is dark and hardly has any form.  Things continue this way, until she begins to put it together that things have a name and a use, and then her world starts to take on more defined form.  It was a wonderful, beautiful way to represent how Helen's world suddenly opened up when she learned to communicate with people.  Helen's world becomes more solid as she learns more and more.  Once she understood what Annie was trying to do, Helen wanted to know the name of everything right away.  It must have been amazing.

I highly recommend this one!

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