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Melinda’s Closet Symbol Analysis

Melinda’s Closet  Symbol Icon
Melinda feels unsafe and isolated in high school; and she responds by isolating herself even further, making an unused janitor’s closet into a hiding place where she can cut class and avoid seeing the peers who mock and despise her. Melinda’s closet represents the double-edged sword of her loneliness; on one hand, she makes the environment rich and creative, adding a picture of Maya Angelou, a blanket, and her own turkey sculpture. On the other hand, the closet symbolizes her inability to deal with the real world, and her own immaturity. The closet also represents the prison of silence that Melinda has fashioned for herself; it makes her feel secure, but isolates her from all others. She has created herself a safe space, but she has done so at the cost of her grades, her relationships, and the possibility of human connection. Ultimately, of course, Andy Evans violates this safe space just as he violated her body a year earlier. He attempts to rape her in the closet but Melinda, newly empowered, and on her own turf, fights back. By fighting him off in the closet and screaming for help, Melinda retakes ownership over her own body and her own space. At the end of the novel, she no longer needs the closet to feel safe, because of her newfound voice and autonomy.

Melinda’s Closet Quotes in Speak

The Speak quotes below all refer to the symbol of Melinda’s Closet . 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 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 9 Quotes

When I close the closet door behind me, I bury my face into the clothes on the left side of the rack, clothes that haven’t fit for years. I stuff my mouth with old fabric and scream until there are no sounds left under my skin.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Andy Evans
Related Symbols: Melinda’s Closet
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

After having seen Andy Evans, Melinda literally retreats into her childhood, heading to the back of her bedroom closet to scream. It is of course symbolic that Melinda chooses to take out her frustration, rage, and fear while surrounded by "clothes that haven't fit for years." Forced into adulthood long before she was ready, Melinda buries herself in memories of the childhood to which she can never return. 

Just as when she howls at the pep rally, Melinda specifically screams where there is no one to hear her, even stuffing old clothes in her mouth in order to silence herself. Even now, Melinda is still silencing herself, unable to believe that anyone will listen to or care about her pain and trauma. Rather than deal with that disappointment, she tries instead to isolate and muffle herself, choosing to be alone and in anguish rather than trust those who have previously let her down. 

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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Melinda’s Closet Symbol Timeline in Speak

The timeline below shows where the symbol Melinda’s Closet appears in Speak. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 11: Burrow
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...Melinda then evades Mr. Neck (also after missing homework), and stumbles upon an old janitor’s closet in the Senior’s Wing (where freshmen never go). (full context)
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Noting the closet’s bad smell, stained armchair, desk, and “cracked mirror,” Melinda realizes that it is abandoned, and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 12: Devils Destroy
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
...to use the distraction of the Homecoming pep rally in order to clean up her closet; she describes how she brought sponges from home, and wants to add in a blanket... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2: Closet Space
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...after school for extra help from her teachers, but she responds by hiding in her closet. As she redecorates, she covers its mirror (which she hates) with a poster of Maya... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...that she will never be able to “dump the memory.” She is grateful for the closet because it allows her to hold onto her thoughts without letting anyone else “hear them.” (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 8: Cutting Out Hearts
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...begins to have a panic attack; she hears “a cracking inside me,” rushing to her closet, biting her own wrist, hitting her head against the wall, and sobbing. She has no... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 18: Stupid Stupid
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Melinda goes to her closet after school rather than ride home on the bus with her peers. She greets her... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 4: Genetics
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
...Melinda sketches “a willow tree drooping into water” to tape on the inside of her closet; she considers moving in there “full-time.” She realizes that her leaves look good—“Ivy was right.”... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 6: Thin Atmosphere
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
Retreating to her closet, Melinda works through her options, wondering how to warn Rachel away from Andy, and discarding... (full context)
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
Melinda looks at the walls of the closet, which are filled with pictures of trees. She categorizes them into different periods, and notes... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 25: Prey
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...algebra class, Melinda realizes with a start that she doesn’t want to hide in her closet anymore. After class she watches as Rachel ignores Andy, and as Greta-Ingrid insults him. (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
After school, Melinda goes to her closet to collect her belongings, including the poster of Maya Angelou and the bird sculpture. She... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling assaulted by even his words, Melinda tries to leave, but he locks the closet door. Calling her a “strange bitch” and a “freak,” Andy grabs her wrists. Although Melinda... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...potpourri and her books at him. As he pins her by the throat against the closet’s sink, Melinda imagines that her fists are like useless “rabbit paws.” Feeling his body crushing... (full context)