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Communication versus Silence Theme Analysis

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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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Speak, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Communication versus Silence Theme Icon

Given that the name of the book is Speak, it is unsurprising that communication versus silence is a critical theme within the book. Silence sits at the narrative’s core: Melinda has not told anyone about her rape at the hands of popular senior Andy Evans the previous summer, and has morphed from a happy, popular student to a traumatized outcast as a result. Throughout the book, Melinda finds it harder and harder to speak; a psychological block that symbolizes the fact that she cannot talk about her rape. It is important, too, to note that the connection between silence and rape is simultaneously destructive and common. Victims are often ashamed of what has happened to them, and think that no one will believe them; in this context, Mel’s decision to keep her violation a secret is a tragic but understandable one.

Every other character within the novel has problems with communication as well. Heather talks so much that she cannot hear what her friend has to say; Mel’s parents find it impossible to understand either their daughter or each other; Rachel, Mel’s former best friend, is so far removed from the protagonist that she literally begins to speak a different language.

For Mel, redemption comes through communication. Throughout the book she explores many different methods of communicating, from passing notes to graffiti to silent protest to art. This last medium, especially, teaches her that there are many different ways to speak. Creating art gives Mel faith in herself, and proves to her that she has a valid and important voice.

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Communication versus Silence ThemeTracker

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Communication versus Silence Quotes in Speak

Below you will find the important quotes in Speak related to the theme of Communication versus Silence.
Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

This is where you can find your soul, if you dare. Where you can touch that part of you that you’ve never dared look at before. Do not come here and ask me to show you how to draw a face. Ask me to help you find the wind.

Related Characters: Mr. Freeman (speaker)
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

The art teacher Mr. Freeman welcomes freshmen to his art class, using extremely passionate and imagistic language to engage them in the subject he teaches. At first, Melinda judges her teacher's manner as overly enthusiastic and dramatic. In time, however, his prophecy will come to pass. By the end of the book, Melinda has used art in order to access parts of herself that are buried deep within, and to exorcise the traumatic effects of her past.

Mr. Freeman's language is also challenging in tone—he "dare[s]" his students to look within themselves, and to represent what they find there. In this way, he represents self-expression as an act of incredible bravery and strength. Author Laurie Halse Anderson encourages readers to think in a similar manner. Melinda's eventual decision to talk about her trauma, and to portray it through art, is not simply healthy, it's heroic.

The quote also immediately sets Mr. Freeman up as a figure of great wisdom and empathy within the novel. Throughout the narrative, he will provide Melinda with safety and support, and he is the only adult able to do so. By essentially predicting Melinda's journey as her story progresses, Freeman is displaying wisdom and insight, as well as his own powers of self-expression. 


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Part 1, Chapter 12 Quotes

The cheerleaders cartwheel into the gym and bellow. The crow stomps the bleachers and roars back. I put my head in my hands and scream to let out the animal noise and some of that night. No one hears. They are all quite spirited.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker)
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

As a pep rally rages around her, Melinda experiences a moment of raw anguish and isolation. This passage puts Melinda directly in contrast with the other students at her school. While they scream with school spirit and enthusiasm, she screams out of frustration and anguish. A non-conformist in the middle of a mob, it is easy to see why Melinda feels so out of place when she is around her fellow students. Traumatized and alone, she experiences something that should be fun—a pep rally—as a deeply threatening and hostile environment. 

Importantly, Melinda's actions here also help us to understand her complicated relationship with speech and silence. Clearly, Melinda is in deep and constant pain; she is so lonely and damaged, however, that she is unable to express this pain to anyone. The chaos of the pep rally gives her the opportunity to voice her anguish without anyone hearing.

The phrase "some of that night" is particularly important, as it is a subtle reference to the night when Melinda was raped. She carries this experience around with her always, but has been unable to share that burden with anyone around her. Although screaming may provide a temporary outlet for her suffering, Melinda remains unable to escape the memory and trauma related to her assault, or to truly communicate her feelings about it. 

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. 

Part 2, Chapter 6 Quotes

Cooking Thanksgiving dinner means something to her. It’s like a holy obligation, part of what makes her a wife and mother. My family doesn’t talk much and we have nothing in common, but if my mother cooks a proper Thanksgiving dinner, it says we’ll be a family for one more year. Kodak logic. Only in film commercials does stuff like that work.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

In the midst of a disastrous Thanksgiving, Melinda reflects on why her mother cares so much about the holiday. While many teenagers feel hostilely towards adults—particularly their parents—Melinda articulates a deep cynicism here regarding her family. She believes that her mother's dedication to a ritual of togetherness and tradition (Thanksgiving) is in fact entirely deluded. That is, by focusing on appearances, such as the perfect Thanksgiving dinner, her mother is ignoring the family's broken and alienated reality.

Beneath Melinda's cynicism, however, readers are able to pick up important details about her mother. A hardworking and driven professional, Melinda's mother is clearly desperate to fulfill the traditional roles of "wife and mother." Seen in this light, her pointless efforts to cook the perfect Thanksgiving dinner are not contemptible, as Melinda seems to believe, but deeply sad. Faced with a distant husband and a nearly comatose daughter, Melinda's mother puts her efforts into cooking a perfect Thanksgiving dinner because she doesn't know what else to do.

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 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 3, Chapter 13 Quotes

The next time you work on your trees, don’t think about trees. Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage— whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms sweat or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.

Related Characters: Mr. Freeman (speaker), Melinda Sordino
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Freeman tries to encourage Melinda as she attempts over and over again to create a piece of art about a tree. He urges her to give herself over to an emotion—a hard task for someone who is in such pain that she has attempted to emotionally freeze herself.

However difficult Mr. Freeman's challenge is, he has also given Melinda a way to express herself. Although she cannot speak about her experiences, she may still be able to create art about them, expressing her pain through creation rather than through language. 

Mr. Freeman's final warning—that people who don't express themselves "die one piece at a time"—rings all too true for the traumatized ninth grader. By failing to express herself, Melinda has harmed herself physically, socially, and emotionally. The dangers of silence and of frozenness are real, Mr. Freeman implies, and Melinda must fight against them if she hopes to become a functional person once more. 

Part 3, Chapter 14 Quotes

I stumble from thornbush to thornbush— my mother and father who hate each other, Rachel who hates me, a school that gags on me like I’m a hairball. And Heather.
I just need to hang on long enough for my new skin to graft. Mr. Freeman thinks I need to find my feelings. How can I not find them? They are chewing me alive like an infestation of thoughts, shame, mistakes.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Melinda’s mother, Melinda’s father, Heather, Mr. Freeman, Rachel Bruin
Related Symbols: Trees, Seeds, Plants, and Forests
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

In a moment of peak anguish, Melinda once again uses a botanical metaphor to express herself, thinking of all the obstacles and difficulties in her life as thornbushes ready to rip off her skin. Although it is frustrating to see Melinda remain silent and isolated, passages such as this help readers understand why she does so. To Melinda, everything in her life is hostile and sharp, ready to rip her to shreds. She does not feel safe with anyone, and so she can never release the terrible burden of her guilt and trauma. She is trying her best to heal from her sexual assault—to allow her "new skin to graft"—but everything in her life is making it more difficult to do so. 

This passage also makes clear Melinda's complicated relationship to emotion and appearances. Outwardly, Melinda is apathetic; she doesn't seem to care about school, friends, or life. Inwardly, however, Melinda is in constant torment, her guilt, shame, and regret eating her up inside. Given her inner pain, it makes sense that Melinda tries to remain as outwardly unfeeling as possible. If she ever lets out the powerful emotions inside of her, she is terrified of what will happen. 

Part 3, Chapter 19 Quotes

I open my mouth to breathe, to scream, and his hand covers it. In my head, my voice is as clear as a bell: “NO I DON’T WANT TO!” But I can’t spit it out. I’m trying to remember how we got on the ground and where the moon went and wham! shirt up, shorts down, and the ground smells wet and dark and NO!— I’m not really here, I’m definitely back at Rachel’s, crimping my hair and gluing on fake nails, and he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up
and zips his jeans
and smiles.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Andy Evans
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, at last, Melinda describes the details of her sexual assault. Her recounting makes clear the trauma at the root of her inability to speak: during the actual moments of her rape, Melinda was unable to cry out for help or in protest. It is this experience that has kept her from having a voice since. The description also helps illuminate the reasons for Melinda's guilt and self-loathing. She believes that, since she was unable to verbally or physically fight off her rapist, that she is partially responsible for her assault. This belief is common among victims of sexual assault, and has been crippling Melinda emotionally and mentally for months. 

The idea that "I'm not really here" also helps us learn more about Melinda's character and her coping mechanisms for trauma. Throughout the novel she has longed to leave her body, her school, and her family. Readers learn here that she employed this tactic in the midst of her rape, attempting to separate herself from her own body. Despite being unable to do so at the time, she has essentially been trying to do the same thing ever since. 

Part 4, Chapter 9 Quotes

I am a deer frozen in the headlights of a tractor trailer. Is he going to hurt me again? He couldn’t, not in school. Could he? Why can’t I scream, say something, do anything? Why am I so afraid?

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Andy Evans
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Even as she continues to heal and come out of her shell, Melinda still becomes frozen and powerless when she encounters Andy Evans. So traumatized that even the sight of him robs her of agency and speech, Melinda has no way to defend herself against him. She hates herself for these feelings, believing them to be a sign of weakness.

What Melinda does not understand, however, is that her silence and fear are born out of trauma. Her inability to speak or move comes from an instinct to protect herself from the person who has deeply and irrevocably hurt her. A vivid and tragic representation of trauma, this passage helps readers to understand just how terribly Andy Evans has harmed Melinda, and how damaging his presence is for her on an emotional, psychological, and physical level. 

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." 

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.