Melinda mocks Hairwoman’s choice of earrings, and reports that her English class has started to study symbolism in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Melinda wonders why Hawthorne didn’t simply say what he meant, but secretly enjoys the work. She thinks of it as breaking a code, and unlocking literary secrets.
Discussions of symbolism are particularly appropriate in this novel, which is, itself, filled with symbols, from Melinda’s lips to mirrors to birds to trees. Considering how symbolic Melinda’s life is, it makes sense that she enjoys the act of analyzing them.
Melinda wonders whether Hester ever tried to say no (presumably to her lover Reverend Dimmesdale’s sexual advances). She imagines living in the woods with Hester and wearing an S on her chest “for silent, for stupid, for scared…for silly. For shame.”
Melinda identifies with the victimized and isolated Hester, and imagines having a companion in her solitude. She also implies that she believes Hester may have been raped.
Hairwoman attempts to engage the class in a conversation about the symbolism of glass within the novel, and Rachel (whom Melinda now calls Rachel/Rachelle) responds that she doesn’t believe in symbolism. To Hairwoman’s dismay, Rachel claims that Hawthorne didn’t actually intend to put hidden meaning into his work; the two argue, and in revenge, Hairwoman assigns a 500-word essay on symbolism. The whole class is angry at Rachel; “That’s what you get for speaking up,” Melinda comments.
Although Hairwoman had previously been succeeding in communicating with her class, here it becomes clear that her ability to do so is limited. Rachel’s questioning of her authority is obnoxious and incorrect, but Hairwoman reacts in an ineffective way. Rachel’s refusal to believe in symbols is refuted by the very book in which she exists—Speak—and also itself symbolizes Rachel’s inability to recognize the “symbol” of Melinda’s changed behavior and how it shows that something actually happened to Melinda to make her behave as she is.