Ask Keller - September 2005
Are you curious about some aspect of Helen Keller's life,
and haven't been able to find the answer to your question? Ask Keller
Johnson-Thompson, Helen's great-grandniece. This monthly column features
real questions from readers like you.
If Helen Keller could have regained her sight, what do you think she would have wanted to see?
In 1932, Helen Keller was asked a similar question, "What would you look at if you had just three days of sight?" Helen Keller responded by writing an essay that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly. I have condensed her answer as follows:
On the first day, Helen Keller wanted to see the people whose kindness and companionship had made her life worth living. She also wanted to see the books that had been read to her, which had revealed to her the deepest channels of human life. Next, she wanted to look into the eyes of her dogs, the little Scottie, Darkie, and the Great Dane, Belle. That afternoon, she would take a long walk in the woods and look at the beauties of the world of Nature. She would pray for a colorful sunset, and that night, she probably would not be able to sleep.
On the second day, she would arise before daybreak and witness the sun awaken the sleeping earth. She would go to the museums and see man's progress as she would study the condensed history of the earth—animals and men in their native environments, gigantic dinosaurs. The land the way it used to be before man conquered the animal kingdom. She would next visit the Museum of Art where she would look into the soul of man through his art, taking in the vivid colors and expressions. The evening of her second day would be spent at a theater or at the movies.
The third day, Helen Keller would again greet the dawn. She would spend this day among the workday world in the city of New York. She would stand on busy corners, merely looking at people and their expressions. She would stroll down Fifth Avenue, and throw her eyes out of focus so that she could see a kaleidoscope of color, as the many people walked by in their dress attire. Then she would make a tour of the city—the slums, to factories, to parks where children play. She would take a stay-at-home trip abroad, by visiting the foreign areas of the city. As night closed in, she would again run away to the theater to a hilariously funny play, so that she might appreciate the overtones of comedy in the human spirit. At midnight, only when darkness had again descended upon her, she would have realized how much she had left unseen.
At the end of this piece, Helen Keller wrote: "Perhaps this short outline does not agree with the program you might set for yourself if you knew that you were about to be stricken blind. I am sure however, that if you faced that fate you would use your eyes as never before. Everything you saw would become dear to you. Your eyes would touch and embrace every object that came within your range of vision. Then, at last, you would really see, and a new world of beauty would open itself before you. I who am blind can give on hint to those who see: Use your eyes as if tomorrow you would be stricken blind. Make the most of every sense; glory in all the facets of pleasure and beauty which the world reveals to you through the several means of contact which nature provides. But of the the senses, I am sure that sight must be the most delightful."
What kind of books did Helen Keller enjoy reading?
Helen Keller once said of books: "I read with interest every book I can lay my hands on except pocketbooks, and checkbooks." It is true, Helen loved to read. In addition to her daily Bible reading, Helen Keller adored poetry, her favorite poets being Walt Whitman and Thoreau. She began to read Whitman's works at a very young age when she was almost overwhelmed by a sense of isolation and self-doubt. However, after reading Whitman's "The Song of the Open Road," she felt her spirit leap with life, and again felt refreshed. On Thoreau, Helen described his work as one in which nature speaks to her without an interpreter. As she read his words, it made her feel as if she was a spirit wild and free.
In addition to poetry, Helen Keller also loved books on philosophy. She especially enjoyed reading the works of her wonderful friend Mark Twain. She also enjoyed other novels such as Gone with the Wind. While reading that particular book, she once remarked, "I am glad to see Scarlett being transformed from a spoiled belle into a courageous, responsible worker."
When Helen was a young girl, she used to make her teacher, Anne Sullivan read and reread "Little Red Riding Hood" repeatedly because she liked frightening stories. Helen Keller indeed liked to read, she really believed that reading was a swift and exciting way to learn about the world around you.