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Mr. Freeman Character Analysis

Melinda’s free-spirited, kind, warm art teacher, Mr. Freeman is the only adult whom Melinda respects or trusts. He tells his students to use art to express their emotions, and helps Melinda to once again find her voice by forcing her to focus on a single subject—a tree—over the entire year. Mr. Freeman also frequently stands up to the school administration, refusing to give students grades and protesting the budget cuts to his art supplies by painting a giant satirical mural on one of the walls of his classroom. At the end of the book, Melinda begins to tell him the story of her rape.

Mr. Freeman Quotes in Speak

The Speak quotes below are all either spoken by Mr. Freeman or refer to Mr. Freeman. 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 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

This is where you can find your soul, if you dare. Where you can touch that part of you that you’ve never dared look at before. Do not come here and ask me to show you how to draw a face. Ask me to help you find the wind.

Related Characters: Mr. Freeman (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

The art teacher Mr. Freeman welcomes freshmen to his art class, using extremely passionate and imagistic language to engage them in the subject he teaches. At first, Melinda judges her teacher's manner as overly enthusiastic and dramatic. In time, however, his prophecy will come to pass. By the end of the book, Melinda has used art in order to access parts of herself that are buried deep within, and to exorcise the traumatic effects of her past.

Mr. Freeman's language is also challenging in tone—he "dare[s]" his students to look within themselves, and to represent what they find there. In this way, he represents self-expression as an act of incredible bravery and strength. Author Laurie Halse Anderson encourages readers to think in a similar manner. Melinda's eventual decision to talk about her trauma, and to portray it through art, is not simply healthy, it's heroic.

The quote also immediately sets Mr. Freeman up as a figure of great wisdom and empathy within the novel. Throughout the narrative, he will provide Melinda with safety and support, and he is the only adult able to do so. By essentially predicting Melinda's journey as her story progresses, Freeman is displaying wisdom and insight, as well as his own powers of self-expression. 

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Part 3, Chapter 13 Quotes

The next time you work on your trees, don’t think about trees. Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage— whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms sweat or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.

Related Characters: Mr. Freeman (speaker), Melinda Sordino
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Freeman tries to encourage Melinda as she attempts over and over again to create a piece of art about a tree. He urges her to give herself over to an emotion—a hard task for someone who is in such pain that she has attempted to emotionally freeze herself.

However difficult Mr. Freeman's challenge is, he has also given Melinda a way to express herself. Although she cannot speak about her experiences, she may still be able to create art about them, expressing her pain through creation rather than through language. 

Mr. Freeman's final warning—that people who don't express themselves "die one piece at a time"—rings all too true for the traumatized ninth grader. By failing to express herself, Melinda has harmed herself physically, socially, and emotionally. The dangers of silence and of frozenness are real, Mr. Freeman implies, and Melinda must fight against them if she hopes to become a functional person once more. 

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. 

Part 4, Chapter 7 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mr. Freeman (speaker), Melinda Sordino
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

While encouraging Melinda to continue working on her tree project, Mr. Freeman articulates one of the central beliefs at the core of the novel: that rather than attempting to escape the flaws and traumas in her past, Melinda must instead try to incorporate those experiences into her life. Urging Melinda to "Be the tree," Mr. Freeman hints that, on some level, he understands that he is talking not just about the art project, but about Melinda herself. He is a wise and empathetic teacher, and it makes sense that he would instinctively recognize his student's pain and her need to connect with others.

This passage also continues to support the idea of expression through art. Over and over, Mr. Freeman tells Melinda to put her feelings, her life, and herself into her artwork. Together, teacher and student work not just to create a satisfying final project, but to find a way for Melinda to find healing by creating a tree—a sentiment that is made clear within this quotation. 

Part 4, Chapter 26 Quotes

“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.”

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Mr. Freeman (speaker)
Related Symbols: Water, Ice, and Melting, Warmth and Sunlight
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

As Melinda and Mr. Freeman look at her tree sketch, Mr. Freeman reveals that he has at least guessed that Melinda has been through a traumatic experience. Always the most empathetic and understanding adult in the book, he is about to become the first person to whom Melinda fully tells her story. Given that his philosophy of art as self-expression has allowed Melinda to make her emotional journey, it makes sense that he should be the first to hear from her newfound voice.

Natural metaphors abound in this passage, as the last of Melinda's iciness melts away under Mr. Freeman's warmth and attention. The combination of fighting off Andy, making her tree, and Mr. Freeman's sympathetic ear have freed her from her frozen trauma. By "melting," Melinda is finally able to tell her story, and to reemerge into the world as a flawed but healing person who trusts others and is able to ease the burdens of her past by sharing them with those around her.

These are the final words of the novel—an optimistic ending for what is often a dark and upsetting book. By ending her narrative with Melinda telling her story to Mr. Freeman, author Laurie Halse Anderson is telling her readers that, just like Melinda's, their stories matter, and that there are those in the world who will listen to and understand them. 

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Mr. Freeman Character Timeline in Speak

The timeline below shows where the character Mr. Freeman appears in Speak. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 4: Sanctuary
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...which she calls a “dream.” In contrast to Hairwoman and Mr. Neck, her art teacher Mr. Freeman is friendly and open-minded; his classroom, meanwhile, is full of warmth and light. Even the... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
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Mr. Freeman tells his class that each of them will be focusing on only one object for... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 14: The Opposite of Inspiration is...Expiration?
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
...pep rally, Melinda has used watercolors to paint trees that have been struck by lightning. Mr. Freeman has not commented on them, however, and Melinda is not satisfied. She recounts that her... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7: Wishbone
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...provide…a lousy dinner,” so she digs up the bones and brings them to art class. Mr. Freeman , thrilled by her idea, allows Melinda to take time off from the tree to... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...decides to skip her next class in order to work on her bird artwork, and Mr. Freeman agrees. He is working on his own piece, a mural depicting all the members of... (full context)
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Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...“attacking the bones,” and places a Lego palm tree and a Barbie doll within them. Mr. Freeman is delighted and praises the work, as does Ivy. Although he asks her to describe... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14: Coloring Outside the Lines
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Back in the art room, Melinda describes Mr. Freeman ’s popularity and coolness: the students are allowed to eat in his class, and to... (full context)
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
...the room yesterday, but how the students hid their food and turned off the radio. Mr. Freeman , meanwhile, continued his school board mural. Melinda contemplates becoming an artist “if I grow... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 23: Dark Art
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
The school is in the depths of winter, and Mr. Freeman is in trouble after having given A’s to all of his students. He is so... (full context)
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
...the students turn to stare at her. She refuses to go to the nurse, and Mr. Freeman disinfects her chisel. Instead of giving it back to her, however, he uses it to... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5: Stunted
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Rather than give his students grades, Mr. Freeman is evaluating them every week in a painted list on his wall. Next to Melinda’s... (full context)
Melinda looks at a book of landscapes brimming with trees and plants. She recalls that Mr. Freeman hasn’t said anything good to her since her turkey bird sculpture, and reports that Mr.... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12: Picasso
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Melinda feels useless in art class, and Mr. Freeman tells her that her “‘imagination is paralyzed.’” He invites her to read about Picasso, whom... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...draws “a Cubist tree” which looks like “glass shards” and “lips with triangle brown leaves.” Mr. Freeman is pleased and impressed. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 13: Riding Shotgun
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...Effert’s, to shop. As Melinda waits, a blizzard begins, pelting her with snow and ice. Mr. Freeman pulls up and offers her a ride, even mentioning that he’d love to meet her... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
As they approach Effert’s, Melinda chews a scab on her thumb. She thanks Mr. Freeman awkwardly, and he responds by telling her that she can talk to him whenever she... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 7: Growing Pains
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Melinda opens by calling Mr. Freeman “a jerk” because he is criticizing her tree. Although she’s annoyed, she does agree with... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 11: The Beast Prowls
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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Melinda stays after school to practice creating chalk drawings of her tree, while Mr. Freeman goes off to a faculty meeting. Melinda feels safe in the art room, until Andy... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 26: Final Cut
Coming of Age Theme Icon
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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Mr. Freeman won’t hand in his grades, Melinda reports. She takes advantage of the delay to work... (full context)
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Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
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Seniors walk in to say goodbye to Mr. Freeman , and Melinda calls them “girls” only to correct herself to “women.” One of the... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...river” in Melinda’s eyes, she can see that her tree is perfect in its imperfection. Mr. Freeman comes to look at the tree, and Melinda studies the bruises on her own arm... (full context)