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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression 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.
Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Theme Icon

Because Speak takes place within Melinda’s mind, author Laurie Halse Anderson is able to vividly and achingly portray the effects of isolation and loneliness upon human consciousness. Throughout the book, Mel struggles to emerge from a cloud of depression and apathy that surrounds her, yet continually finds herself rejected and alone. Mel’s attitude towards her isolation is conflicted. On one hand, she believes that she has chosen it, pushing away all those close to her in order to protect both them and herself from the fact of her rape. On the other hand, Mel is desperately unhappy and lonely; her self-imposed isolation is a symptom of her trauma, rather than a conscious and healthy choice. While her parents and teachers believe that she is simply a slacker, readers can understand that Mel is deep within the throes of depression.

Mel’s isolation and sadness does, however, give her deep insight into others characters’ unhappiness. Heather, for instance, is isolated and lonely because she cannot see to fit in at her new school. Melinda’s parents are isolated and unhappy as well, trapped in a troubled marriage with seemingly no way to escape. Mel’s isolation, then, is a double-edged sword: it sinks her deeper into depression, but also allows her to see past the masks that people present to the world. As Mel matures, she realizes that she can connect with people while still maintaining this insight. She emerges from the book still deeply empathetic, but rejecting the isolation that she had previously sought out.

Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression appears in each chapter of Speak. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression Quotes in Speak

Below you will find the important quotes in Speak related to the theme of Isolation, Loneliness, and Depression.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

I have entered high school with the wrong hair, the wrong clothes, the wrong attitude. And I don’t have anyone to sit with. I am Outcast.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker)
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

As Melinda begins her freshman year of high school, she reacts to her new environment with pessimism and dread. On one level, this quote reflects how sorely Melinda sticks out within the conformist world of Merryweather High. On a deeper level, Melinda's repetitive description of herself as "wrong" gives readers a sense of her deep self-hatred, and her lack of comfort within her own skin. By criticizing her own appearance, Melinda is unknowingly revealing the reality of her emotional state. Despite claiming frequently that she doesn't care what others think, Melinda's description of herself as an "Outcast" reveals that she is in fact thinking of herself in the way that others see her. Although she may pretend that her isolation doesn't bother her, Melinda is in fact acutely sensitive to her peers' opinions of her; in an effort to ignore their rejection and cruelty, she judges herself as harshly as possible. 


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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. 

Part 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

I used to be like Heather. Have I changed that much in two months? She is happy, driven, aerobically fit. She has a nice mom and an awesome television. But she’s like a dog that keeps jumping into your lap. She always walks with me down the halls chattering a million miles a minute.
My goal is to go home and take a nap.

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Heather
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

While spending time at Heather's house, Melinda reflects on the other girl's shallow, vapid personality. This quote highlights the importance of Heather as a character within the novel. Not only does Heather force Melinda to actually interact with someone throughout the narrative, but she also represents both Melinda's past self and her current disillusionment. Like it or not, Heather reminds Melinda of the innocent, enthusiastic person she used to be.

Rather than increasing Melinda's positive feelings towards Heather, however, this association only makes the protagonist feel more annoyed and hostile towards her semi-friend. She sees her old self as vapid, naive, and idiotic, and attributes all those traits to Heather as well.

Beneath this anger, however, is a deep sense of sadness, pain, and envy. As we often see within the book, Melinda longs for the person she used to be, her anger at her past self masking how much she misses her lost innocence. This mix of emotions makes her feelings towards Heather extraordinarily complex, but also helps to explain why she spends so much time with the other girl. 

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 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. 

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 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 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 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 13 Quotes

I just want to sleep. A coma would be nice. Or amnesia. Anything, just to get rid of this, these thoughts, whispers in my mind. Did he rape my head, too?

Related Characters: Melinda Sordino (speaker), Andy Evans
Page Number: 165
Explanation and Analysis:

Sick and delirious, Melinda admits how exhausting it is to constantly deal with her anger, depression, frustration, and trauma day after day. Since she cannot communicate with anyone, the only people she can talk to are the "whispers in my mind," most of which are filled with self-loathing, shame, and regret. Being constantly at war with herself has taken its toll: Melinda longs to escape through "amnesia" or a "coma," desperate to stop reliving the traumatic memories of her rape and her subsequent isolation. 

This quote is especially significant because it is one of the first times that Melinda uses the word "rape" in the book. Although in a dark place, she is at last admitting to herself what actually happened the previous summer. By naming the event, she is beginning to take ownership of it.

Meanwhile, Melinda's feeling that Andy has somehow violated her mind makes a great deal of sense. By forcing himself on her, Andy has isolated Melinda from her friends, ripped her from her childhood, and thrown her into a deep depression. His physical violence towards her has left her mentally damaged and tormented, unable to escape the traumatic memories surrounding her assault. 

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.