Melinda’s Interaction with Trees Throughout the Novel
“You are getting better at this, but it’s not good enough. This looks like a tree, but it is an average, ordinary, everyday, boring tree. Breathe life into it. Make it bend-trees are flexible, so they don’t snap. Scar it, give it a twisted branch- perfect trees don’t exist. Nothing is perfect. Flaws are interesting. Be the tree.”(153) Told Mr. Freeman to a troubled art student at Merryweather High. Trees represent life, the greatest gift of all. As Melinda grows her branches twist and turn and her bark become rough. She learns more about herself and discovers hidden messages that people are trying to give her. She then goes through something, never to be forgotten, that will change her life forever.
Melinda Sordino, in the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, discovers who she really is throughout the novel. Melinda has become a person who secludes herself from others and doesn’t like to show the real person that she is. But really, deep down inside, she thirsts for friendship but cannot drink. Melinda has become a person with a lack of self-confidence and determination. She has become someone in movies and books that people call the “nobody” or “loner”. Melinda soon realizes what she has become on her first day, “I have entered high school with the wrong hair, wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don’t have anyone to sit with. I am Outcast. There is no point looking for my ex-friends. Our clan, the Plain Janes, has splintered and the pieces are being absorbed by rival factions.” (4) Melinda sees that the others despise her for what she had done the night of the party, but she just ignores what they have to say. Even though most of what students have to say is hateful and rude, she just goes through it and doesn’t stand up for herself; even though what she had done was a good decision. Melinda makes decisions based on her inner qualities and morals which stay hidden from others. Melinda may not seem to be a kind and caring person at first, but we are mistaken. Her first glimpse of kindness is when she helps Heather with her first major Martha project. “Heather’s first Martha Project it to decorate the faculty lounge for a Thanksgiving party/ faculty meeting. She corners me after Spanish and begs me to help her. She thinks the Marthas have given her a deliberately impossible job so they can dump her. I’ve always wondered what the staff room looks like.” (43) Melinda is also an intelligent person but she lacks to show that as well. Although she may not get the grades that her teachers are expecting to see, some of them are kind and caring to her. They know she is smart but she just doesn’t do her best. They still help and encourage her and they care for her, sometimes even more than her own parents. Melinda is a caring, kind, and intelligent person. She may not always show some of her best qualities, but that doesn’t make her a bad person. Melinda tries to express what is going on, but it is difficult for her to do because of what happened to her. As Melinda goes through some tough times in her life, she finds a few people (some teachers) that truly care about her. Some of them try to give her hidden messages through things that they tell her during their talks with each other, like how to find her inner self or what to do when she’s feeling down.
Melinda’s teachers more send her messages more than anybody when the talk to her. What they are trying to get across, not always obvious, sends Melinda an important message. Those messages all seem to have an important theme to them, each one just as important as the next. Trees are an important theme throughout the novel, many of the messages have something to do with them. Mr. Freeman, the art teacher, gives many hidden “tree messages” to Melinda through the speaking of her art assignment. Her assignment throughout the year was to study and become one with trees. Melinda becomes frustrated and angry with her progression on her art assignment at times and wants to give up, because she doesn’t feel that they are good enough. But Mr. Freeman gives her good advice that always keeps her on track. “You are getting better at this, but it’s not good enough. This looks like a tree, but it is an average, ordinary, everyday, boring tree. Breathe life into it.” (153) He gives Melinda advice to put herself into her artwork along with everything else that she does. Mr. Freeman challenges her to discover her inner self but he does it in those messages. Melinda is given a tree to be her topic in art class and it becomes of great symbolism in the novel. Trees represent life in which they grow just as a person grows, they scar just as a person scars, and they breathe just as a person breathes. Melinda is like a tree. She is to give her projects life, which reflect her own life. Trees are very symbolic to Melinda. She goes outside one day and realizes that things aren’t very happy anymore, and the tree becomes scary, “The wind stirs the branches overhead. My heart clangs like a fire bell. The scarf it too tight on my mouth. I pull it off and breathe. The moisture on my skin freezes.” (71) Melinda notices that the teachers have been giving her messages to help her learn more about herself. And some of those messages help her discover the truth, which can sometimes be ugly. Later those talks with friends and teachers become a way of coping with the worst thing that had happened to her.
Melinda has gone through something which no person deserves to ever experience . She was raped; trapped and vulnerable, yet she was outside and at a party. “Rachel got us to the end-of-summer party, a cheerleader party, with beer and seniors and music. She blackmailed her brother, Jimmy, to drive us. We were all sleeping over at Rachel’s house. Her mother thought Jimmy was taking us roller-skating. It was at a farm a couple of miles from our development. The kegs were in the barn where the speakers were set up. Most people hung at the edge of the lights. They looked like models in a blue-jeans ad, thinthinthin, big lips, bug earrings, white smiles. I felt like such a little kid.” (133-134) Melinda in reality was a little kid and she shouldn’t have been at that party, Rachel shouldn’t have beenthere either . But it was Melinda’s choice to go and she chose yes. Melinda had been pressured into having a beer, then another and a few more after that. “I worried that I would throw up. I walked out of the crowd, towards the woods. The moon shone on the leaves. I could see the lights, like stars strung up in the pines. Somebody giggled, hidden beyond the dark, quiet boygirl whispers. I couldn’t see them.” (134)This is where a big part of the theme trees comes to play in the book. It’s where the unthinkable happens to Melinda. A senior comes up to Melinda, “A handsome young man and begins to dance with her and pulls her closer and closer. He then kissed her, a man kiss, hard sweet and deep.” That kiss nearly knocked her off her feet. Melinda had never had anybody act like this towards her before and she was in bliss, but that bliss soon became hell. “Do you want to?” he asked. What did he say? I didn’t answer. I didn’t know how. I didn’t speak. We were on the ground. When did this happen? “No.” No I did not like this. I was on the ground and he was on top of me. My lips tremble something about leaving, about a friend who needs me, about my parents worrying.” (135) After this, Melinda realizes that she is no longer going to be the same, she can’t defend herself, no one is there to save her. “I open my mouth to breathe, to scream, and his hand covers it. In my head, my voice is as clear as a bell: “NO I DON’T WANT TO!” But I can’t spit it out. I’m trying to remember how we got on the ground and where the moon went and wham! Shirt up, shorts down, and the ground smells like wet and dark and NO!”(135) Melinda is then mentally destroyed and rendered defenseless, of whatever chance of getting away from this pervert she had. “I’m not really here, I’m definitely back at Rachel’s, crimping my hair and gluing on fake nails, and he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up and zips his jeans and smiles.” (135-136) Melinda had been raped. She had been sexually abused right outside where her friend stood, having a great time, drinking it up and making bad choices. Melinda had lost her innocence. Melinda called the police and couldn’t tell them what happened because she had burst out into tears. The cops had arrived and everyone at the party had gotten in serious trouble. She then walked home, to find no one there to help her, to save her, to love and comfort her. Her parents weren’t home and she was left to deal with it all alone that night. Melinda had her life taken away from her and she still went on going to school, helping her parents, hiding it from others, she went about her days not telling anyone. Then others had found out what had happened and she became popular in a day. Everyone had stuck up for her and she was not alone.
“Mr. Freeman: “No crying in my studio. It ruins the supplies. Salt, you know saline. Etches like acid.” He sits on the stool next to me and hands back my tree. “You get an A+. You worked hard at this.” He hands me the box of tissues. “You’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?” The tears dissolve the last block of ice in my throat. I feel the frozen stillness melt down through the inside of me, dripping shards of ice that vanish in a puddle of sunlight on the stained floor. Words float up. Me: “Let me tell you about it.” Melinda had finally discovered who she was inside, a sweet young lady with lots of potential and many great inner qualities. She finds the hidden messages and decodes them, figuratively speaking. Melinda loses her innocence in a terrible way, a way in which someone should never have to go through. Sweet, quiet Melinda had been raped. At a party she should have never went to, she should have never lied to her parents. Melinda, like a tree, had gone through a tornado, terrorizing and destructive, and had been scarred. Her bark had grown rough and her branches twisted and stretched out towards the sun striving to get sunlight. Melinda had become the trees she had drawn before, broken, childlike, and not realistic. She had lost herself to a horrible person. Melinda had gone through the roughest time of her life and now has people there for her; those who were angry were now sad and sympathetic. Those who had ignored her and treated her badly, now know her story.