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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Primary Analysis: Helen Keller

The story of how Helen Keller's teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through the isolation of her disabilities, helping the girl communicate, has become widely known through the dramatic depictions of The Miracle Worker.  Helen Keller is an inspiration, as she is the first person with both disabilities (deaf and blind) to earn a college degree.  However, little attention is paid by most historians to her work as a political activist.  Keller not only promoted progressive reforms, such as women's suffrage, but was an active socialist writer and lecturer.  See Keller's file from the FBI.  

Explore this side of her life. Analyze one of the following works by Keller.  How does this relate to the progressivism of the time period?  The Labor Movement?  If you lived in the Red Scare, how might you react?  Discuss the controversial nature of this, in comparison to America as a capitalist state.

How I became a Socialist-1912
The Spirit of Lenin-1929
Letter to Eugene V. Debs-1919
Help Soviet Russia-1921

What are your thoughts? Concerns?  Comments?

Please complete this primary analysis by Saturday, 3/12/2011 at 11:59 pm.


Sarah said...

I saw this article two days ago and it is basically a summary of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller's relationship if anyone wanted to read more.

What also interested me was when I was walking through the hallway in school the other day, there was a quote by Keller on the wall. Of course, I don’t remember what it was. It's just weird that I keep seeing stuff about her all in the same period of time. It is even more weird that the I before E except after C rule doesn’t apply to the word weird unless there is a silent c I don’t know about: wceird.

Sarah said...

Had to post two comments because the whole thing was too much for this wimpy web site

I'm not really a fan of that song with Helen Keller in it - it doesn't have a good dance beat. Anyways, I briefly reviewed some of the articles but the one I like best was the letter to Eugene V. Debs - 1919. It interested me more than the others as it was successful in introducing the other side of Helen Keller, beyond her personal life and impairments. The letter exemplifies her passion and opinions on Socialism and also I could see the socialist side of her as she wrote to Eugene V. Debs - who we know from prior learning is the Socialist candidate for several early 20th century presidential campaigns. I was also interested that she wrote several times to Debs as her close relationship indicates her support for Socialism in which is not often mentioned when speaking about Keller.
Keller's letter to Debs relates to the time period's Progressivism when she said, "I should be proud if the Supreme Court convicted me of abhorring war, and doing all in my power to oppose it." By saying this, she went against the ideals of the time period as represented in the Espionage and Sedition Acts by which Debs was convicted. Debs = prisoner 9653. Keller did so because by professing her anti-war thoughts and any anti-American statements that at the time were greatly punished by these two acts - just as Debs was imprisoned for expressing his socialist anti-war beliefs.
"We rise or fall together, we are dwarfed or godlike, free or chained together." said in Keller's help Soviet Russia, relates to the labor movements of the time because Keller reflects the behavior of a union in her description. She conveys how they join and strike as a whole: "together", and how Unions could either be dwarfed- failing short of reaching their cause, or god-like and achieving what the workers have never gotten.

In addition, if I lived in the Red Scare I would be cautious of my actions because it seems like just about any anti-American statements could have landed you in jail with a bad reputation. I don't think I would have been as brave as Helen Keller who in these letters out right states her opinions without care for consequences.

The Red scare is controversial in comparison to America as a capitalist state because we lived in fear in that point in time of the Bolsheviks bringing communism and capitalistic properties to America when we, to a certain extent, already had a capitalistic economy. This is because most of the business in America was privately owned and harvested in times of the government's Laissez-faire policies.

Uhhh, this post took forever to do, but my question is why did Keller talk so greatly of Russia in the last article-Help Soviet Russia- if this could have gotten her in jail? and did it?

Krista said...

I don't know how my comment is going to stand up to Sarah's TWO comments, but I'll give it a try.

I read the article "How I became a Socialist" and found it very interesting. I used to only see Helen Keller as a talented person who over came great disabilities to become a functioning member of society. Now I see that she was not only a functioning member, but she also advocated workers struggles as a member of the IWW; she also wanted to go to work as she stated, "Owing to Mrs. Macy’s illness,whatever plans I had to join the workers in Schenectady have been abandoned".

When it comes to the Red Scare I don't see how Helen Keller was effected. She did not seem to fear Russians or communists. She even said, "I love the red flag and
what it symbolizes to me and other Socialists" I'm not sure if the red flag related to the Red Scare, but the passage kind of sounds like it. To be honest I'm still not too sure about the difference between communists and socialist. If I lived in the Red Scare I would not do anything against the Russians, but I would also be too scared to speak upon their behalf. Helen Keller was very brave.

I don't feel that anything in this article was controversial to capitalism. Although I did feel that she was a little bit paranoid about everyone trying to take down the socialists and all of the newspapers being against them. From what I read about the time period as long as you weren't a "new immigrant", Russian, communist (well suspected communist anyway) or German you were pretty safe.

I disagree with Sarah about her taste in music, but I do agree with her description and analysis of Helen Keller's stance about the Red Scare; was wasn't she put in jail?

Sarah said...

It's not about how much you write, but wether or not you make a quality comment. I do agree that you agreed with me though.

BigBri said...

I dont understand how Helen Keller began to talk if she could not hear someone else say it. Along with that,if she knew the letters at that how did she learn how to pronounce it? if someones deaf dumb and bling, how can they be a political activist, i just dont understand.

michellepleban said...

This relates to prgressivism because of social progressivism. Helen Keller was part of the ideals that moral values arent fixed throughout history and should be revised with age. If i were in the Red Scare i would freak out too. I think in our society people are easily influenced by others, so if everyone around me were freaking about communism i would too.

Diana said...

The stories of Helen Keller is related to the progressive era because she was in favor of Industrial Workers of the World as well as being part of the Socialist Party. I was surprised to find out that Helen Keller participated in political matters and how much she did in society. She also supported women's suffrage movement; one of the factors that progressives supported.
If I was alive during the Red Scare I would feel frightened and restricted of what I'm doing. I would have to be careful of my actions and behaviors or else it may lead to what happened with the Sacco and Vanzetti case, where they were blamed innocently for just being foreigners. I felt that Helen Keller should be praised for her bravery during the Red Scare since she was a Socialist. People felt the need to convict the Socialists and non Americans in order to decrease the red scare, such as the Palmer Raids.

Anonymous said...

I never knew that Helen Keller was a socialist who promoted socialist reforms. I read her essay, "Help the Soviet Union." I was surprised that Keller supported Russia when I read, "But despite intriques and blockades and the wicked misinterpretations of a stupid, dishonest press, she stands today firmly entrenced in her just cause, while the old social order is collapsing at her feet." I think it was brave of Keller to stand against all of the other Americans who were greatly opposed to Russian communism. If I lived in the Red Scare, I would probably be angered by what Keller wrote, because it would mean accepting what I feared most.

Ross said...

I was unaware, through my years of schooling, that Helen Keller was anything but a remarkable human being that overcame unthinkable challenges. Now I understand that she was a practicing socialist and actually a quite effective political activist. On that note, Helen Keller relates to the progressive era because she believed in socialism and movements such as womens suffrage. It relates to the Labor Movement because, as being a socialist, she believed in the Industrial Workers of the World. As for if I lived in the time of the red scare I would be frightened, as the American general public was, of the threat of a Communist takeover and would most likely actually be in favor of actions such as the Palmer Raids, as they attempted to make people feel safer.

amanda said...

It's difficult for me to understand how someone with so many disabilities was able to achieve so much. I've never been able to understand how she learned to talk never mind write. It doesn't surprise me however, that she took part in social movements. The quote "If I
ever contribute to the Socialist movement the book that I sometimes
dream of, I know what I shall name it: Industrial Blindness
and Social Deafness." shows how she relates society's weakness to her own as a way to not only understand it but to explain it to others. This way of thinking helps us to better understand Helen's mindset on issues. I particularly like the quote: "We are not nice, but we are interesting." This describes many people and issues even today. The fact that Helen was able to understand so much, support her own opinions, and to teach others of her way is unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

Brian saying Helen Keller was dumb was obviously not true considering all she accomplished first off.. Second, it is amazing that she was able to do so much with all her disabilities. Helen Keller relates to progressivism and the progressive era because she promoted socialism and woman's rights movements. She was in favor of the Industrial Workers of the World, which goes hand in hand with supporting the Labor Movement. Now, if I lived in the red scare, obviously the first emotion would be fear. I wouldn't want communism to completely spread over to the United States, and just completely take over. I doubt anybody wanted that. -Mike E.

jessalves10 said...

I had no idea that Hellen Keller was active in politics. I've always been taught that she achieved more than most. She recieved a college degree, wrote books, and did so much more, but politics? She was a socialist? All this surprised me because though I expected her to become the face of what the underdog can achieve, I never expected her to be so pro workers rights and pro womens' rights. I think it was surprisisng to all of us. I expected that Hellen just advocated the idea that no matter what, you can achieve so much, at best. I didn't think that she would dapple in politics. I guess it just goes to show how people at that time were adament about politics and women were really starting to become more outspoken, or at least Hellen Keller was.

Hellen Keller wasn't the helpless, hanidcapped women that everyone of her day thought she was. She proved that you could be deaf, blind, and a woman and still be successful.

Christine said...

I read “How I Became A Socialist.”
The thing that concerns me the most is that I had no idea that Helen Keller was a socialist. Like Krista, I’ve only ever seen Helen Keller depicted as a young girl learning to live with disabilities that were isolating her from the world. I think that not enough people understand and appreciate how strong of a woman she was later in life, regardless of the fact that she was a socialist. My half-brother’s grandmother was a socialist, and she was completely harmless. During the Red Scare socialists, communists, and immigrants were all being demonized, with the exception of Helen Keller. Rather than saying she was just as bad as the communists, they called her too stupid or naïve to think for herself just because she’s blind and deaf. I love how strong she is, and that she makes it very clear that she is a socialist because she believes in the same ideas, and not because someone is exploiting her. And to partially answer Brian, Helen learned how to read Braille. She was a very bright and intelligent. As for learning how to speak, I’m not sure about the details but she could have learned be feeling the shapes of people’s mouths while saying certain letters.
Sorry I couldn't post this sooner, the pop-up window wasn't working right all day.

matthew said...

I just had a perfect comment but when I went to post, it disappeared.....

I knew that Helen Keller was intelligent because when I was in 5th grade, I read an article about her. It said that she was able to overcome her disabilities and learned how to communicate. However, it said nothing about how active in the country she actually was. I was surprised to find out, that she was a socialist who supported the Soviets. Most people back then were afraid of them and the created the red scare. It truly is inspirational that someone could be deaf and blind, and still stand up for what they believe without any fear.

mike51095 said...

Like almost everyone here, I was never aware that Helen Keller was active in politics. I just always knew that she was praised for being able to live a fulfilling life while being deaf and blind. I think it is so amazing and remarkable that Helen Keller, a deaf and blind women, could have the ability to understand complex political and economic systems and take a stance based on what she knows. To be honest, If I lived in the time of "The Red Scare" I would probably look at Helen Keller with scorn because she supported everything that our country was against at that time. -Mike Signore

Yazan said...

Wow, until Mr. Pags said it, I had no clue that she was an active politician. I read "The Spirit of Lenin", and I found it kind of confusing. I couldn't really understand what her point was. The only thing I got from it was that she loved the socialist cause and apparently championed its cause; which surprises me because at that time there was the Red Scare. And for a woman that had already broken the sight and sound barriers, she earns my respect by also having the courage to break social norms.

Jeanette said...

“Help Soviet Russia” relates to the progressivism of the time period, because as Helen Keller states about Russia, “Her struggle for economic freedom is their struggle, her perishing children are their children, and her dreams, her aspirations, her martyrdom and victories are an internal part of the workers' campaign for a better, saner world.” The progressive reformers had these views as well as the workers: of creating a better, more improved world. This relates to the Labor Movement because the workers campaigned for better treatment in the workplace. They were struggling, and so were the children. (Child labor was an issue for the progressives.) If I lived in the Red Scare, I would probably react harshly. I mean, a revolution happening to America would be pretty scary. The Red Scare is controversial in comparison to America as a capitalist country because we did not want Russia to influence the Americans, and having communism take over.

mrowl12345 said...

Hellen Keller strongly shows the way people thought during the progressive movement. She often spoke out about government and fought for things such as women's rights. If i lived during the Red scare, not only would i be scared and concerned for my own safety from all the injustices done at this time but i would also be concerned over the way Keller was talking out about the government and Russia. For example, in the article Help soviet Russia Keller talks about her strong feelings for Russia and how she is impressed, inspired and proud of all that Russia stands for. These are frightening statements, because during this time in the Red Scare, if anyone else had said something like this, than she would have surely been arrested.

Becky said...

Miss me yet? Alright Help Soviet Russia is relates to Progressivism because she belives that the people there are all getting equal treatment which is what socialism is really about. She is rooting for the lower class that exists in all countries. If I lived in the Red Scare I definately would not say that I liked what was going on in Russia as Keller does for fear of persecution. I do not agree with Keller's view that there is poverty every where so it is not made worse by communism. I highly disagree because in capitalism you atleast have a chance to better your life and make your own money. I can't see where she is even coming from.

Jenna said...

Wow, initially, I'd like to say that Helen Keller's words are just so nicely strung together in Help Soviet Russia. The way she words things is so ~poetic and strikingly metaphoric. I can see that she was much more than what most people know her to be -- only a once struggling success story in the areas of disability. I now see her as an opinion-voicing, effective speaker. She says, "How spiritually blind are men, that they fail to see that we are all bound together!" which really speaks for the world since the beginning of time. She makes really good points. Progressivism is expressed in this because, by definition, it involves reform and creating an overall better place. Keller wants the different places to help one another to reach that ultimate goal. If I lived in the Red Scare, I'd most likely believe what all of the magazines and media were telling me simply because I probably wouldn't know any better. I was going to say basically what Jeanette said about the controversy. In conclusion, this whole activity was eye-opening because of how I once viewed Helen Keller before I knew she was an active politician.
-Jenna Ryan

Caitlin said...

Just like Mike said, I probably would not have agreed with Keller's point of view at the time period because of how she went against everything our country was promoting during the Red Scare. I'm not saying that it was bad to be a socialist because to each their own, but to support the Soviets when your country is trying to protect itself and its citizens just baffles me a little. I do appreciate the fact that she was able to stand up for her beliefs and be such a strong person, but at the same time I feel like she is able to do that because she was already so different that if something else made it her stand out it wouldn't bother her.

Sukhmeet said...

I find it so hard to believe that Helen Keller was able to achieve so much being blind, deaf, and dumb. You would think someone like that wouldn't be very active in politics. Her socialist practices relates to progressivism because she believed in socialism and supported causes such as women's suffrage. This just goes to show that she was a very confident and strong person because during that period people had to keep their political views to themselves, while she shared her views very openly. Even though she is handicapped, she made me realize that you shouldn't be scared of sharing your feelings, and that anything is possible.

C said...

Reading your responses, there's a lot to take in...They were very insightful.

Jenna stated: "I now see her as an opinion-voicing, effective speaker. She says, "How spiritually blind are men, that they fail to see that we are all bound together!" which really speaks for the world since the beginning of time. She makes really good points. Progressivism is expressed in this because, by definition, it involves reform and creating an overall better place. Keller wants the different places to help one another to reach that ultimate goal." Which I thought made a great statement, and connected the ideas of the Progressive movement to the 1920s Red Scare.

Jeannette stated, "“Her struggle for economic freedom is their struggle, her perishing children are their children, and her dreams, her aspirations, her martyrdom and victories are an internal part of the workers' campaign for a better, saner world.” The progressive reformers had these views as well as the workers: of creating a better, more improved world. This relates to the Labor Movement because the workers campaigned for better treatment in the workplace." Honestly, it's intriguing that Helen Keller can be both Progressive, but also bring about the biggest fears of America right at the end of World War I.

Personally, it's conceivable that due to her disabilities, Helen Keller's promotion of the Soviet way is exactly what kept her out of jail. Thoughts?