Speak

Speak

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Birds Symbol Icon
Birds appear multiple times in the text of Speak—the most memorable of these appearances, of course, being the doomed turkey that Melinda’s mother attempts to cook on Christmas. After Melinda’s mother ruins the bird by forgetting to defrost it, and her father mutilates it with a chainsaw, the parents bury the bird. Melinda, however, digs its bones up and makes it into a disturbing work of art. Although this is a darkly comic subplot, the dead and mutilated bird represents the freedom that Melinda believes she has lost. The art she makes, meanwhile, has two meanings: on one hand, by placing a Barbie head within the turkey bones, Melinda is expressing how trapped and alone she feels within her own mutilated mind. On the other hand, her ability to turn the ruined turkey into art represents her ability to move on from her own trauma. By the end of the novel, birds have become an unambiguous symbol of freedom and joy. When Melinda realizes that there is something missing from her crucial tree sketch, she adds birds, which symbolize her own eventual release from the trauma and depression that have burdened her throughout the book.

Birds Quotes in Speak

The Speak quotes below all refer to the symbol of Birds. 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 3, Chapter 19 Quotes

Slush is frozen over. People say that winter lasts forever, but it’s because they obsess over the thermometer. North in the mountains, the maple syrup is trickling. Brave geese punch through the thin ice left on the lake. Underground, pale seeds roll over in their sleep. Starting to get restless. Starting to dream green.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Birds, Water, Ice, and Melting, Warmth and Sunlight
Page Number: 133
Explanation and Analysis:

As the narrative progresses, Melinda's voice becomes slightly more hopeful. Emotionally frozen during the winter months, she begins to thaw as the weather turns towards spring. This passage illustrates the close relationship between Melinda's emotions and the changing of the seasons. The signs of spring—water thawing, birds returning, seeds growing—all have intensely symbolic and positive meanings for her. Water melts, just as her inward iciness melts as well. Birds fly free, just as Melinda hopes to one day be free of her trauma. Seeds grow from the cold ground, just like Melinda wishes to be reborn, and to come back from her trauma as strong as she was before. 

Like the "restless" seeds that are "dream[ing] green," Melinda too is starting to become restless, dreaming her way out of her cold, frozen shell. To her, spring is a metaphor for renewal and rebirth, processes in which she hopes to take part as well. Her close association with nature makes the tree an excellent subject for Melinda's artwork. Just as she uses natural metaphors to describe her own internal journey, so too will she use a representation of her tree to express her hidden emotions.  

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Part 4, Chapter 26 Quotes

IT happened. There is no avoiding it, no forgetting. No running away, or flying, or burying, or hiding. Andy Evans raped me in August when I was drunk and too young to know what was happening. It wasn’t my fault. He hurt me. It wasn’t my fault. And I’m not going to let it kill me. I can grow.
I look at my homely sketch. It doesn’t need anything. Even through the river in my eyes I can see that. It isn’t perfect and that makes it just right.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Andy Evans
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Birds, Water, Ice, and Melting, Warmth and Sunlight
Page Number: 198
Explanation and Analysis:

Having finally created a tree that expresses her true self and her hidden trauma, Melinda is at last able to admit the truth to herself and to the readers, and explain what happened in clear terms. She at last cleanses herself of her guilt, acknowledging that her rape was not her fault, and that she will no longer remain frozen from the pain of the experience.

Creating art has indeed become a healing experience for Melinda, as a representation of her imperfect life, and her continued potential for growth. Although she has longed to escape throughout the narrative, Melinda now understands that flight is not possible; the only way she can continue living is to acknowledge her trauma and to continue growing as a person.

Melinda describes her tears as she finishes the sketch by saying that there is a "river" in her eyes. Throughout the novel, metaphors of freezing and ice have described Melinda's cold and static emotional state. Now, as she at last emerges, her "river" of tears represents the fact that she has thawed internally, and is ready to face the world again as a person with agency and a voice. 

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Birds Symbol Timeline in Speak

The timeline below shows where the symbol Birds appears in Speak. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2, Chapter 2: Closet Space
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...she hates) with a poster of Maya Angelou (author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), whose books the school board has banned. During Melinda’s time in the closet, she... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6: Giving Thanks
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...before). After working all night on plans for her store, she forgets to defrost the bird, and then attempts to hurriedly unfreeze it by pouring hot water on it. Melinda notes... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...magazines as her parents fight. When she emerges, she sees her father chopping the frozen bird apart with a hatchet, attempting to hack it into pieces so that they can finally... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 7: Wishbone
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...her idea, allows Melinda to take time off from the tree to work on the bird. (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...several attempts, Melinda 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... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...describes it for her. Despite her silence, Melinda is pleased; she makes the Barbie the bird’s head, turns the fork and knife into its legs, and puts tape over the Barbie’s... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3: Escape
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...a shaft of sunlight, taking off her winter clothes and imagining that she is a bird. Real birds sing above her, trapped by the mall ceiling (although no one quite knows... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5: Stunted
...plants. She recalls that Mr. Freeman hasn’t said anything good to her since her turkey bird sculpture, and reports that Mr. Freeman has spent much of his time staring at a... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 8: Cutting Out Hearts
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
As Ms. Keen teaches a class about the literal birds and bees, Melinda frantically wonders whether David has sent her the card. She chews her... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...class continues, David and Melinda begin to draw a picture of Ms. Keen as a bird (a robin) together. Melinda tries to make a tree for the bird, and is pleased... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 15: Germination
Coming of Age Theme Icon
...topic, noting the different ways that seeds grow (they even get eaten and expelled by birds), and the many perils that await seeds in the world. “It’s amazing anything survives,” she... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 18: Stupid Stupid
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...her peers. She greets her poster of Maya Angelou, her Cubist tree, and her turkey-bone bird sculpture, and curls up for a nap. Sleeping at home has gotten even more difficult;... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 21: Chat Room
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
...his lack of respect for women. Melinda feels as if she could fly like a bird. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 23: Prowling
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...prom night, and she imagines Rachel’s parents waiting up for their daughter. Feeling like a bird, Melinda contemplates never sleeping again. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 25: Prey
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...to her closet to collect her belongings, including the poster of Maya Angelou and the bird sculpture. She opens the door to let in fresh air, and tries to get her... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...limb, something to hang on to,” Melinda finds a block of wood—the base of her bird sculpture. She uses it to break the mirror behind the poster of Maya Angelou. Grabbing... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 26: Final Cut
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Melinda decides that her tree is missing something, and uses chalk and water to draw birds above it (although the bandage on her hand makes this difficult). As she does so,... (full context)