Speak

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Blood Symbol Icon
Melinda is hyperaware of blood throughout the novel. An incredibly charged symbol, blood represents both life and death, and also is especially connected to the idea of adult womanhood (because of menstruation). Blood is also significant because, presumably, Melinda bled during her rape. Whenever Melinda draws blood, either intentionally or unintentionally, it represents the pain that she feels but cannot speak. Frequently (and disturbingly), Melinda reacts positively to the idea of bleeding; to her, blood is proof that she has been injured. Although she cannot tell people that her mind has been harmed, blood is visible evidence that the body has been harmed. This positive association with bleeding makes it especially upsetting when Melinda’s mother reacts dismissively and coldly when she sees that her daughter has been harming herself; Melinda has essentially shown evidence of her suffering, and her mother has ignored it. Contrast this instance with the moment in which Melinda draws “one drop of blood” from the neck of her rapist, Andy Evans. He drew her blood and rendered her powerless; and now Melinda is returning the favor.

Blood Quotes in Speak

The Speak quotes below all refer to the symbol of Blood. 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 6 Quotes

I look for shapes in my face. Could I put a face in my tree, like a dryad from Greek mythology? Two muddy-circle eyes under black-dash eyebrows, piggy-nose nostrils, and a chewed-up horror of a mouth. Definitely not a dryad face. I can’t stop biting my lips. It looks like my mouth belongs to someone else, someone I don’t even know.
I get out of bed and take down the mirror. I put it in the back of my closet, facing the wall.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Mirrors, Lips, Blood
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

While contemplating herself in the mirror of her bedroom, Melinda feels a surge of loathing. The protagonist often comments negatively about her own appearance, but this quote is one of the most vivid examples of her deep self-hatred. Melinda has essentially internalized all of the hatred and harm that she receives from her peers, and is projecting it back onto herself. In fact, in biting her lips until they bleed, Melinda has actually begun to self-harm, physically punishing herself both for her traumatic past and her current isolation, even though she is blameless in regards to both. The fact that she "can't stop" biting her lips only further emphasizes her feelings of powerlessness, illustrating for readers how out-of-control she feels, even within her own body. 

Throughout the book, Melinda will associate herself closely with trees. Here, though, she doesn't think that she is good enough to be a tree nymph, a "dryad," thus cutting herself off from the healing and rebirth that trees symbolize within the novel. 

Last, Melinda's admission that she "doesn't even know" her own reflection, and her decision to hide her mirror, illustrate how far Melinda is alienated from her own appearance. Inside, she is traumatized and wounded; her appearance, however, does not display those truths. Unable to verbally communicate her true internal state, Melinda hates her body for not expressing that state physically. 

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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 8 Quotes

I rock, thumping my head against the cinder-block wall. A half-forgotten holiday has unveiled every knife that sticks inside me, every cut. No Rachel, no Heather, not even a silly, geeky boy who would like the inside girl I think I am.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Heather, Rachel Bruin, David Petrakis
Related Symbols: Melinda’s Closet , Blood
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

After a disastrous Valentine's Day, Melinda crumbles inside her closet. Through most of her narrative, Melinda acts as if she doesn't care about the opinions of her peers. This passage, however, makes clear how false that attitude actually is. While she may pretend to be hardened and cynical, Melinda in fact feels "cut" every time that someone rejects or mocks her. Rather than being apathetic, Melinda actually cares far too much. An intelligent and emotionally attuned person, she tries to protect herself from the world with hostility, but is unable to do so.

It is interesting, too, that Melinda calls herself "the inside girl I think I am." Always aware of the differences between interior and exterior, Melinda understands that she is far more sensitive and observant than she lets on. Her idea of herself is different from the face she shows to the world; yet even as she hides this softer side of herself, she is desperate for someone else to access it. 

Part 4, Chapter 25 Quotes

I reach in and wrap my fingers around a triangle of glass. I hold it to Andy Evans’s neck. He freezes. I push just hard enough to raise one drop of blood. He raises his arms over his head. My hand quivers. I want to insert the glass all the way through his throat, I want to hear him scream. I look up. I see the stubble on his chin, a fleck of white in the corner of his mouth. His lips are paralyzed. He cannot speak. That’s good enough.
Me: “I said no.”

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Andy Evans
Related Symbols: Melinda’s Closet , Mirrors, Lips, Blood
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

After Andy Evans attempts to rape Melinda a second time, she tells him no, and then defends herself with a shard of glass from a mirror in her closet. One of the most significant acts in the book, Melinda's defeat of Andy has huge narrative and symbolic implications. 

Andy has entered Melinda's closet, the one place where she felt safe—even before attempting to physically assault her again, he has already violated her. Subsequently, although Melinda screams no, he continues to try to rape her, proving that he would have done so over the summer whether or not she protested. 

Throughout the book, Melinda detests mirrors and her reflection, but here, however, a mirror becomes her most vital tool, as she uses a broken shard to threaten Andy. Although he has metaphorically broken her, Melinda is still able to fight back, using pieces of her own fractured identity to defend herself.

With his life in danger, Andy goes completely silent; as Melinda tells us, "He cannot speak." By raping her the previous summer, Andy took away Melinda's voice and her agency. Now, not only has she taken those things back, but she has temporarily silenced her assaulter, the man responsible for her anguish and isolation. She has made him utterly powerless, and she uses this opportunity to utter the sentence that she has been longing to say for months: "I said no." 

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Blood Symbol Timeline in Speak

The timeline below shows where the symbol Blood 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
...comments, however, that the clay streaks his hands leave on the chalkboard look like dried blood. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12: Hard Labor
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...head. Her father, meanwhile, is furious about how many calendars she has ruined with her blood. Melinda comments that at the end of vacation she is actually happy to go back... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 17: Model Citizen
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...shadow, she did buy black and red nail polish called Black Death to match her bloody, bitten nails. Next, she sarcastically decides, she will buy a shirt in “tubercular gray.” (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21: Rent Round 3
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...a “[p]itiful” suicide attempt, and a “whimper” for help. She watches as “little windowcracks of blood” appear, and doesn’t stop scratching until “it stops hurting.” When her mother sees the wrist,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 23: Dark Art
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Melinda gashes herself with her chisel, getting blood on the linoleum; all the students turn to stare at her. She refuses to go... (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
...so hard that she begins bleeding. As David passes her a tissue to blot the blood, Melinda notes that it doesn’t even hurt. All that hurts is seeing other people flirting... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 19: A Night to Remember
...herself that it is winter and she is on her roof. Noticing that there is blood on the snow, she realizes that she’s bitten through her lip and will need stitches,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 11: The Beast Prowls
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...like a rabbit once again, and imagines her heart running away from her and leaving bloody footprints on her drawing. She inhales his cologne as he turns on the lights, wondering... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 25: Prey
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...of glass, she holds it to his neck, pushing until she draws a drop of blood. (full context)