Thursday, June 07, 2007
Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller
Miller, Sarah. 2007. Miss Spitfire: Reaching Helen Keller.
I don't quite remember when I first saw the movie The Miracle Worker, but I do remember it making a great impact on me. I remember being fascinated with finger spelling, particularly the famous w-a-t-e-r and d-o-l-l. I do know that at some point afterwards, I learned the alphabet. It's something I still know to this day, though I don't place too much confidence on my being able to remember "x" or "z" or "q" on demand. But there is something about this story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan that has always fascinated me. So when I first read about Miss Spitfire, I was excited. Very excited. I wanted to track down a copy of this book quickly. Very quickly.
But enough about my pre-reading activity. What did I think of Miss Spitfire? I loved it. Absolutely loved it. True, I was already interested in the story. Already compelled to love it based on my prior history, but Sarah Miller's writing was remarkable. I not only fell in love with the story. I fell in love with how she told the story.
"I'm not sure I can do this job. Yet a part of me understands Helen better than she does herself. I'm no stranger to frustration, anger, isolation. I wonder, though, how Helen can be content to deprive herself of my affection? The thought of her indifference makes my throat sting, yet I can't help feeling drawn to her. If I could only touch her heart, I know I could reach her mind. But she won't even let me hold her hand." (43)
"It seems nothing I do comes out right. But in my heart I know what's right for Helen: obedience, love, and language. Come what may and hell to pay, I'll find a way to give her all three." (64)
Annie Sullivan is a young woman on a mission. Her job? To teach a child--a six year old child--who is blind, deaf, and dumb. It won't be easy. There has only been one successful case in the past to base their hopes and dreams on: Laura Bridgman. But Annie is strong-minded and determined. She'll need every ounce of stubborness she has if she's going to master the willfullness of Helen. Used to getting her own way, Helen runs wild. And as Annie soon points out, the family expects better behavior from the dogs than they do their young daughter. Helen has never been disciplined a day in her life--at least since an illness left her blind and deaf. This journey from despair to hope, from chaos to communication, is an important one. It is full of emotion--as day by day Annie struggles to teach and love a child who fails to comprehend the meaning of words altogether. Anger. Frustration. Rage. Joy. Happiness. Fear. Hope. Despair. It's all here. Annie and Helen. This is their story.
And for the record, I loved, loved, loved the ending. It was oh-so-magical.