Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing"- Helen Keller

Last week, a statue of Helen Keller was added to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, becoming the first disabled figure and child to grace the chamber.

Keller, who was rendered deaf and blind due to a childhood illness, overcame and conquered when, with the help of her teacher, she learned to communicate through signing.

The statue depi
cts her iconic revelation by the water pump: the breakthrough moment where she first associated the sign for water with the liquid she felt. There, at ten years old, she dumbfounded doctors and a pessimistic public by showing that with effort and creative problem solving, anything is possible.

There is no question Helen Keller deserves to be a nat
ional and state representative, but I can’t help to feel disappointed by her portrait. While her disability is essential to the heroic nature of her story, the familiar climatic scene shown in plays, movies, and once in South Park isn’t her peak. Even Keller has clarified that her “work for the blind has never occupied a center in [her] personality. [Her]sympathies are with who all struggle for justice.”

I would have preferred to see her immortalized figure inspired by her more mature years: getting her degree from Radcliffe, working towards international diplomacy, meeting with the great global minds of the time, campaigning for women's
suffrage and overall rights (remember: at a more conservative time, she was pro-choice and pro-birth control!) receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from LBJ and getting elected into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Her battle with her disability was important, but did not define her. If you go to the Capitol's National
Statuary Hall, go see her statue and think about the great barriers she crossed, but don’t forget the activist, author and all-over mover and shaker that she was and represents.

photo credits to: Incessant_flux from


Shelby Knox said...

Exactly! Thank you so much for saying this - Helen Keller was a radical, a socialist, a writer, an organizer and (shock!) a sexual adult woman. While I'm happy there is one more tribute to a woman in the National Statuary Hall, the least they could do for the first person with a disability that's ever been portrayed is to show her as more than her disability.

Danielle said...

Great post Cori!