Speak

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Water, Ice, and Melting Symbol Analysis

Water, Ice, and Melting Symbol Icon
Images of water and ice are prevalent throughout Speak. This symbol is appropriate because Melinda is, in effect, frozen. She is cold to all those around her, from Heather to her teachers to her parents. She is also frozen in the sense that she has stopped moving; she refuses to do her homework, go to class, go out, or mature in any real way. Essentially, since her rape, she has had to freeze her mind in order to protect herself. The idea of melting into water, therefore, is an incredibly important one. As cold, snowy Syracuse, New York gradually melts into spring, Melinda, too, finds the frozen walls around her mind coming down. This is not a sign of weakness, but of strength, as she begins once again to mature and to let others in. This imagery reaches its climax when Melinda finishes her picture of a tree (which also needs water) and finds a “river in her eyes.” Her crying represents another step in the melting process, as she moves further away from her trauma and towards true adulthood.

Water, Ice, and Melting Quotes in Speak

The Speak quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water, Ice, and Melting. 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 21 Quotes

I hide in the bathroom until I know Heather’s bus has left. The salt in my tears feels good when it stings my lips. I wash my face in the sink until there is nothing left of it, no eyes, no nose, no mouth. A slick nothing.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Heather
Related Symbols: Mirrors, Lips, Water, Ice, and Melting
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

After a humiliating encounter with Heather and the Marthas, Melinda's moment of anguish in front of the mirror perfectly encapsulates her self-hatred and deep depression. Melinda loathes herself so much that pain—the salt of her tears on her raw lips—feels good to her. Her assault, and her subsequent isolation by her peers, has left Melinda feeling worthless and invisible. She wishes to erase her face so that her appearance will match her internal devaluation—she will be a "nothing" inside and out. 

It is vital, too, that Melinda repeatedly washes her face in a clear effort to cleanse herself. She continues to feel guilt about her rape (a common sentiment for victims of sexual assault), and wishes to cleanse herself of those feelings. The novel often uses water to symbolize cleansing and rebirth, but here, Melinda wishes to use the restorative powers of water in order to completely erase herself. 

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Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

I almost tell them right then and there. Tears flood my eyes. They noticed I’ve been trying to draw. They noticed. I try to swallow the snowball in my throat. This isn’t going to be easy. I’m sure they suspect I was at the party. Maybe they even heard about me calling the cops. But I want to tell them everything as we sit there by our plastic Christmas tree while the Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer video plays.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father
Related Symbols: Water, Ice, and Melting
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

On Christmas Day, Melinda's parents reveal that they've noticed her newfound love of drawing, and give her various art supplies. Although Melinda generally takes a cynical and hardened attitude towards her parents, here she experiences a moment of warmth towards them.

The passage is significant because it makes clear how desperate Melinda is to tell her parents about her assault--so desperate that even the smallest thoughtful gesture almost sends her over the edge. The quotation is also rich in symbolism, as Melinda feels a "snowball" in her throat—an image of solid water, in contrast with the "tears" in her eyes. The snowball represents how frozen and motionless Melinda has felt for months, while the tears symbolize the possibility of thaw and release.

The Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer video, while a vivid detail, also acts as an important symbol here. In a bit of tragic irony, an emblem of childhood and innocence plays on the screen as Melinda contemplates telling her parents about her sexual assault. The childlike past that the video represents contrasts with the mature, difficult reality of Melinda's present. 

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.  

Part 4, Chapter 22 Quotes

I crouch by the trunk, my fingers stroking the bark, seeking a Braille code, a clue, a message on how to come back to life after my long undersnow dormancy. I have survived. I am here. Confused, screwed up, but here. So, how can I find my way? Is
there a chain saw of the soul, an ax I can take to my memories or fears? I dig my fingers into the dirt and squeeze. A small, clean part of me waits to warm and burst through the surface. Some quiet Melindagirl I haven’t seen in months. That is the seed I will care for.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests, Water, Ice, and Melting, Warmth and Sunlight
Page Number: 188
Explanation and Analysis:

Melinda returns to the scene of her rape and experiences a feeling of emotional release as she crouches by a tree. This passage represents one of the most intense instances of Melinda's identification with plants, trees, and nature. Recognizing that she has been frozen in place for months, Melinda here decides that she wants to come back, and to grow once more. 

At first, Melinda wonders whether she can cut away her trauma and terrible memories, but quickly realizes that this is not a real option. Instead, she decides that she must nurture the seeds of the person she used to be, until she can slowly grow into someone else. 

Communing with nature is a restorative act for Melinda. It helps remind her of who she is and who she wants to be, and gives her hope for the future. Although she acknowledges that she is "screwed up," Melinda is more optimistic and sincere here than we have ever seen her before. Returning to the scene of her trauma has had a healing effect on her, and gives both the protagonist and the readers hope that she may indeed continue to heal in the future. 

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. 

“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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Water, Ice, and Melting Symbol Timeline in Speak

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water, Ice, and Melting appears in Speak. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 9: Friends
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...and artsy), Rachel refuses to even speak with her. Melinda reminds herself to act like ice in order not to feel anything. Despite her attempts, however, she imagines shaking Rachel by... (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
...one who called the cops at Kyle Rodgers’s party.” Melinda describes how a “block of ice” has suddenly frozen her section of the bleachers as everyone turns to look at her.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6: Giving Thanks
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...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 that although her family has little... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11: Winter Break
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
...if her “house didn’t feel like Christmas.” She bundles up and heads out into the snow, where she is surrounded by trees, bushes, and ice. As she plays in the snow,... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...and she suddenly feels panicked, her “heart clanging like a firebell.” The spell of the snow is broken, and she complains as it melts on her back. She takes holly and... (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
...TV for her room, skates, and a sketch pad with charcoals because her parents have noticed her drawing. Touched by the fact that they’ve noticed, she begins to cry, and is... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 18: Death by Algebra
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...gets off track, and the class begins to debate animal rights. Melinda, meanwhile, watches the snow fall outside the window. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21: Rent Round 3
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
...Melinda attempts to ignore them, instead conjugating irregular Spanish verbs, daydreaming, and looking at the snow outside. She calls her parents Mount Dad and Mount Saint Mom, watches them erupt, and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 22: Can It
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
...utterly paralyzed. She feels as if the lights have dimmed and the cafeteria has become cold. He reaches down and twirls her ponytail, and Melinda runs to the bathroom to throw... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 2: Cold Weather and Buses
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...but her mother refuses to drive her to school, telling her to walk through the snow instead. As she hikes through the streets, Melinda notes the beauty of the wintry town. (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...(IT, as she calls him) in the parking lot. She freezes on top of an icy puddle and hopes that he won’t notice her. She compares herself to a rabbit that... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...like when she was “eleven years old and fast.” She imagines burning through the sidewalk, melting snow and ice all around her. She decides to cut school. (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 3: Escape
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Reveling in her freedom, Melinda walks down main street, despite the icy weather. She feels as if her insides are freezing. Just as she’s about to head... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 5: Stunted
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...his wall. Next to Melinda’s name is a question mark. Her tree, she reports, is “frozen.” She claims that a kindergartner could do better, and that she doesn’t even know how... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 12: Picasso
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
...is pessimistic, but comments that looking at books will be more useful than watching the snow outside. (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
...to her store, 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... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 17: Snow Day—School as Usual
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Eight inches of snow have fallen in Syracuse, but Melinda does not have a snow day. Hairwoman reminisces about... (full context)
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
As the class discusses snow’s symbolism in Hawthorne, Melinda mentally asserts that snow symbolizes “[c]old and silence.” She contemplates the... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 19: A Night to Remember
...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, causing her mother... (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
Rather than pay attention, Melinda sketches “a willow tree drooping into water” to tape on the inside of her closet; she considers moving in there “full-time.” She... (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
...wants her to tell Rachel. Still suffocating, she takes off her sweatshirt and wishes for cold. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 22: Pruning
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
...by a tree’s trunk and feeling its bark. She feels as if she has been “undersnow” for a long time, and wonders how she can ever be revived. Reminding herself that... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 26: Final Cut
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
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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... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Appearance versus Reality Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Although there is “a river” in Melinda’s eyes, she can see that her tree is perfect in its imperfection. Mr.... (full context)
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon
Memory and Trauma Theme Icon
Melinda imagines the tears “dissolv[ing] the last block of ice in my throat,” and feels herself melting. She imagines the ice melting into a puddle... (full context)