Speak

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Melinda’s mother Character Analysis

Overworked and distracted, Melinda’s mother is aware that her daughter has suddenly become withdrawn and depressed, but has no idea why. Rather than attempting to understand and connect with Melinda, her mother instead reacts with frustration and anger. Even when she sees that Melinda has intentionally hurt herself, she reacts coldly and dismissively. She also has a strained and combative relationship with Melinda’s father, even more reason for Melinda to distrust the adults in her life.

Melinda’s mother Quotes in Speak

The Speak quotes below are all either spoken by Melinda’s mother or refer to Melinda’s mother. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Coming of Age Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Farrar Strauss Giroux edition of Speak published in 2011.
Part 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

It is getting harder to talk. My throat is always sore, my lips raw. When I wake up in the morning, my jaws are clenched so tight I have a headache. Sometimes my mouth relaxes around Heather, if we’re alone. Every time I try to talk to my parents or a teacher, I sputter or freeze. What is wrong with me? It’s like I have some kind of spastic laryngitis.

I know my head isn’t screwed on straight. I want to leave, transfer, warp myself to another galaxy. I want to confess everything, hand over the guilt and mistake and anger to someone else. There is a beast in my gut, I can hear it scraping away at the inside of my ribs. Even if I dump the memory, it will stay with me, staining me. My closet is a good thing, a quiet place that helps me hold these thoughts inside my head where no one can hear them.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father, Heather
Related Symbols: Melinda’s Closet , Lips
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

As the school year progresses, Melinda notices alarming physical changes. What was previously an internal problem (Melinda's inability to talk about her assault) has now become a physical one. The parts of her body that allow her to speak (her throat, jaw, and lips), are becoming sore and difficult to use. By keeping her feelings and trauma bottled up, Melinda is harming herself both mentally and physically. That she relaxes somewhat around Heather, meanwhile, helps us to understand why she keeps the other girl around. Despite how annoying and shallow Heather can be, Melinda feels somewhat safe around her. 

The second section of this quote deals directly with Melinda's tortured feelings surrounding her sexual assault. She hates herself and her surroundings so much that she wishes "to leave" entirely. Her self-loathing stems from the fact that she feels stained and ruined by her trauma, and from her belief that she will never recover from what has been done to her. She has completely internalized these feelings, an action that causes both physical and emotional anguish.

At the end of the passage, Melinda calls her closet "a good thing" because it allows her to keep anyone else from hearing her tortured thoughts. What Melinda fails to understand, though, is that her torment is caused in large part by failing to share or communicate her inner pain. She believes that staying silent and alone is the only option, unaware that isolating herself is actually adding to her sense of trauma and depression. 

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Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner means something to her. It’s like a holy obligation, part of what makes her a wife and mother. My family doesn’t talk much and we have nothing in common, but if my mother cooks a proper Thanksgiving dinner, it says we’ll be a family for one more year. Kodak logic. Only in film commercials does stuff like that work.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

In the midst of a disastrous Thanksgiving, Melinda reflects on why her mother cares so much about the holiday. While many teenagers feel hostilely towards adults—particularly their parents—Melinda articulates a deep cynicism here regarding her family. She believes that her mother's dedication to a ritual of togetherness and tradition (Thanksgiving) is in fact entirely deluded. That is, by focusing on appearances, such as the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, her mother is ignoring the family's broken and alienated reality.

Beneath Melinda's cynicism, however, readers are able to pick up important details about her mother. A hardworking and driven professional, Melinda's mother is clearly desperate to fulfill the traditional roles of "wife and mother." Seen in this light, her pointless efforts to cook the perfect Thanksgiving dinner are not contemptible, as Melinda seems to believe, but deeply sad. Faced with a distant husband and a nearly comatose daughter, Melinda's mother puts her efforts into cooking a perfect Thanksgiving dinner because she doesn't know what else to do.

Part 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

Applesmell soaks the air. One time when I was little, my parents took me to an orchard. Daddy set me high in an apple tree. It was like falling up into a storybook, yummy and red and leaf and the branch not shaking a bit. Bees bumbled through the air, so stuffed with apple they couldn’t be bothered to sting me. The sun warmed my hair, and a wind pushed my mother into my father’s arms, and all the apple-picking parents and children smiled for a long, long minute.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Warmth and Sunlight
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

Triggered by the scent of apples, Melinda remembers a beloved scene from her childhood. This quote stands out as an unusual one within the novel—it lacks Melinda's usual blend of cynicism and pain, instead representing a moment of positivity and beauty. Given Melinda's hatred of the way that she has been growing up lately, it makes sense that she would be extremely nostalgic for her earlier childhood, as is shown here. Importantly, this memory also represents a time of connection between Melinda and her parents, during which they were an actual loving family, instead of simply three people living in the same house.

It's also worth noting that both trees and sunlight figure heavily into this treasured memory—two important and positive symbols within the narrative. Trees represent strength and rebirth to Melinda, while the sun represents the gradual thawing of her inner sense of frozenness. That they both show up within this passage makes clear how important the memory is to her, while also explaining her positive associations with these symbols. 

Despite the beauty and happiness contained within this passage, it is important to remember that to Melinda, this feeling of innocence and connection is completely lost. The memory is a good one, but she believes that she will never feel happy or whole again—so although she is recollecting a blissful moment in her past, the very act of doing so is deeply painful to her. 

Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

I bet they’d be divorced by now if I hadn’t been born. I’m sure I was a huge disappointment. I’m not pretty or smart or athletic. I’m just like them— an ordinary drone dressed in secrets and lies. I can’t believe we have to keep playacting until I graduate. It’s a shame we can’t just admit that we have failed family living, sell the
house, split the money, and get on with our lives.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

Stuck with her parents during winter break, Melinda vocalizes her anger at both herself and her parents. She first calls herself a "disappointment" for being like her parents, whom she believes are dishonest and secretive. She then goes even further, calling her relationships with her mother and father (and theirs with each other) a sham, implying that they are "playacting" as a family instead of actually being one. 

Beneath this venom and cynicism, however, it is important to understand Melinda's pain and loneliness. Her parents were unable to protect her from assault, and now they are unable to understand why she has become a shell of her former self. Melinda is deeply angry about this, believing that her parents' insufficiencies make them unfit to be parents.

Although she may seem like someone who pushes others away, what Melinda actually craves is connection and communication—and her parents seem unable to provide those things to her. Given this failure, the traumatized and desperate Melinda believes that it would be better to cut ties altogether to avoid any more pain and suffering. 

I almost tell them right then and there. Tears flood my eyes. They noticed I’ve been trying to draw. They noticed. I try to swallow the snowball in my throat. This isn’t going to be easy. I’m sure they suspect I was at the party. Maybe they even heard about me calling the cops. But I want to tell them everything as we sit there by our plastic Christmas tree while the Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer video plays.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father
Related Symbols: Water, Ice, and Melting
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

On Christmas Day, Melinda's parents reveal that they've noticed her newfound love of drawing, and give her various art supplies. Although Melinda generally takes a cynical and hardened attitude towards her parents, here she experiences a moment of warmth towards them.

The passage is significant because it makes clear how desperate Melinda is to tell her parents about her assault--so desperate that even the smallest thoughtful gesture almost sends her over the edge. The quotation is also rich in symbolism, as Melinda feels a "snowball" in her throat—an image of solid water, in contrast with the "tears" in her eyes. The snowball represents how frozen and motionless Melinda has felt for months, while the tears symbolize the possibility of thaw and release.

The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer video, while a vivid detail, also acts as an important symbol here. In a bit of tragic irony, an emblem of childhood and innocence plays on the screen as Melinda contemplates telling her parents about her sexual assault. The childlike past that the video represents contrasts with the mature, difficult reality of Melinda's present. 

Part 2, Chapter 21 Quotes

I open up a paper clip and scratch it across the inside of my left wrist. Pitiful. If a suicide attempt is a cry for help, then what is this? A whimper, a peep? I draw little windowcracks of blood, etching line after line until it stops hurting. It looks like I arm-wrestled a rosebush.
Mom sees the wrist at breakfast.
Mom: “I don’t have time for this, Melinda.”

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Blood
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

By now almost entirely unable to speak, Melinda escalates her self-harm, this time cutting shallow lines in her wrist with a paper clip. Even this attempt, though, cannot adequately communicate her pain. Indeed, Melinda mocks herself, calling her action "pitiful," a "whimper" or "peep" for help at best. Neither her words nor her actions can truly express the deep emotional and mental pain that she harbors. Melinda says that she continues cutting "until it stops hurting," a phrase that can refer to her wrist (which becomes numb), or to her emotional pain, which she is releasing through self-harm. 

Note too that even during a time of peak emotional distress, Melinda thinks about plants, commenting that she looks as if she's "arm-wrestled a rosebush." Even in this dark moment, Melinda's obsession with her art project remains—a glimmer of hope in a disturbing and bleak episode. 

The end of the passage, meanwhile, only emphasizes what readers already know: that Melinda's parents have no idea what has happened to her, and that they are only making it more difficult for her to communicate. Melinda's mother sees her action not as a cry for help, but as a plea for attention. In a world of disinterested adults and hostile peers, it makes sense that Melinda remains silent; she has no reason to believe that anyone wants to hear what she has to say. 

Part 3, Chapter 14 Quotes

I stumble from thornbush to thornbush— my mother and father who hate each other, Rachel who hates me, a school that gags on me like I’m a hairball. And Heather.
I just need to hang on long enough for my new skin to graft. Mr. Freeman thinks I need to find my feelings. How can I not find them? They are chewing me alive like an infestation of thoughts, shame, mistakes.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father, Heather, Mr. Freeman, Rachel Bruin
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of peak anguish, Melinda once again uses a botanical metaphor to express herself, thinking of all the obstacles and difficulties in her life as thornbushes ready to rip off her skin. Although it is frustrating to see Melinda remain silent and isolated, passages such as this help readers understand why she does so. To Melinda, everything in her life is hostile and sharp, ready to rip her to shreds. She does not feel safe with anyone, and so she can never release the terrible burden of her guilt and trauma. She is trying her best to heal from her sexual assault—to allow her "new skin to graft"—but everything in her life is making it more difficult to do so. 

This passage also makes clear Melinda's complicated relationship to emotion and appearances. Outwardly, Melinda is apathetic; she doesn't seem to care about school, friends, or life. Inwardly, however, Melinda is in constant torment, her guilt, shame, and regret eating her up inside. Given her inner pain, it makes sense that Melinda tries to remain as outwardly unfeeling as possible. If she ever lets out the powerful emotions inside of her, she is terrified of what will happen. 

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Melinda’s mother Character Timeline in Speak

The timeline below shows where the character Melinda’s mother appears in Speak. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 6: Home. Work.
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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Melinda begins to discuss her home life, which mainly involves avoiding her parents and ordering takeout. She says that, in general, her family communicates only through notes: her... (full context)
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...while she has meals, and the other way to make them appear pristine for her parents. When her father comes home, Melinda flips the cushions so that “everything looks the way... (full context)
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...decides that she doesn’t want to try to redecorate because doing so would cause her parents to argue. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 16: Dinner Theater
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Melinda’s parents scold her for her low grades and poor attitude. She imagines her mother as a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2: Closet Space
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
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Melinda’s parents try to force her to stay after school for extra help from her teachers, but... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6: Giving Thanks
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
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Although she is incredibly stressed out by her job and the upcoming winter holidays, Melinda’s mother insists on cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving (despite the fact that this has led to... (full context)
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...as the turkey floats in the sink in a bath of warm water, and Melinda’s mother deals with a crisis at work. Melinda refers to the floating turkey as a “turkeyberg”... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8: Peeled and Cored
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...specimen perfectly next to her, the smell causes Melinda to flash back to a happy moment in her childhood, when she visited an apple tree orchard with her parents. She remembers... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11: Winter Break
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
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With both her parents at work, school out, and two days till Christmas, Melinda’s mother tells her (via note)... (full context)
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Melinda speculates that if she hadn’t been born, her parents would probably be divorced by now. She reflects that they must be disappointed in her,... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
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...angel, Melinda remembers first grade, when her family lived in a smaller house and her parents were happier; her mother worked at a jewelry counter and “was home after school,” while... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...are a TV for her room, skates, and a sketch pad with charcoals because her parents have noticed her drawing. Touched by the fact that they’ve noticed, she begins to cry,... (full context)
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...night of the party: how she snuck home later that night, but neither of her parents were in the house; in fact, her mother didn’t return until 2 AM, and her... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12: Hard Labor
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Melinda’s parents decide that she can’t simply sit around the house during her Christmas vacation. She tries... (full context)
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...office, but is angry about how much easier his life seems than that of her mother, who is exhausted and will soon have to fire many of her employees. Her father,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 16: Dead Frogs
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Melinda needs stitches, and is taken to the hospital by her mother. As the doctor shines a light into her eyes, she wonders whether the examination will... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21: Rent Round 3
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Melinda’s guidance counselor calls her mother to report her terrible grades. Melinda sarcastically comments that she should get the counselor a... (full context)
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Melinda does her homework and shows it to her parents. Afterwards, however, she writes a runaway note and goes to sleep in her bedroom closet.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2: Cold Weather and Buses
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Melinda misses her bus because of the winter darkness, but her mother refuses to drive her to school, telling her to walk through the snow instead. As... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3: Escape
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...of her clothes from last year fit. She wonders how she could shop with her mother without talking to her. She sits in a shaft of sunlight, taking off her winter... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10: Clash of the Titans
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After having her absences reported, Melinda and her parents have a meeting with Principal Principal, as well as the guidance counselor. Her mother holds... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
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...“sweet, loving little girl” who Melinda was “last year,” and threatens Principal Principal. As her mother snaps at him, the guidance counselor asks if the two have marital issues, and they... (full context)
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Melinda imagines her parents and the guidance counselor performing a song-and-dance routine about her. She giggles, and her parents... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 13: Riding Shotgun
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...even admits that it “feels good” to understand her teachers. Her guidance counselor convinces her parents that she needs a reward, and so her mother takes her shopping. (full context)
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Rather than go to the mall together (an activity that they both hate), Melinda’s mother decides that her daughter will take the bus to her store, Effert’s, to shop. As... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 14: Hall of Mirrors
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Melinda enters Effert’s, only to find that her mother is on the phone. She grabs a pair of jeans and begins to lament the... (full context)
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...hers has been “burned off,” or torn off by the “thornbushes” that are her fighting parents, the horrible Rachel, her repressive school, and the faithless Heather. She tells herself that she... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 16: Bologna Exile
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...to avoid the cafeteria as much as possible. When she writes a note to her mother asking for supplies to make bologna sandwiches, she comes home to find a fridge full... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 19: A Night to Remember
...snow, she realizes that she’s bitten through her lip and will need stitches, causing her mother to be late for work. She reflects that she hates winter, and wonders why anyone... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2: The Wet Season
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Noting that Easter has come and gone, Melinda remembers how her mother used to make an Easter Egg hunt in the house for her, and how before... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 4: Genetics
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...out as Ms. Keene discusses the last unit of biology: genetics. She thinks about her parents’ genes and families (her father’s relatives bet on football and smoke cigars, while her mother’s... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...it’ gene” from her father and her “‘I’ll think about it tomorrow' gene” from her mother. After Ms. Keene announces that they will have a quiz tomorrow, Melinda wishes that she’d... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 12: Home Sick
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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...be sick, only to find that she actually does have a fever. She tells her mom that she doesn’t feel well. Her mother responds that if she’s talking, she really must... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 19: Prom Preparation
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In another turn of events, Heather has showed up at Melinda’s house, to Melinda’s mother’s delight. Feeling self conscious about her babyish bedroom, Melinda listens as Heather cries about how... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 20: Communication 101
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Feeling empowered by standing up to Heather, planting marigolds, and asking her mother if she can redecorate her bedroom, Melinda attributes her newfound confidence to the spring weather.... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 23: Prowling
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...eats a large lunch and then gets to work gardening for the entire afternoon. Her mother and father are impressed, and because of the warm night, the family eats together on... (full context)