After lunch Melinda has art, which she calls a “dream.” In contrast to Hairwoman and Mr. Neck, her art teacher Mr. Freeman is friendly and open-minded; his classroom, meanwhile, is full of warmth and light. Even the radio is playing Melinda’s “favorite station.” A dark spot, however, is Melinda’s former friend Ivy, who refuses to even look at her. This makes Melinda particularly sad because Ivy is a talented artist. Mr. Freeman explains to the class that art will teach them to survive in a way that “words” and “numbers” can’t. He tells them that only art will teach them “how to survive” in the real world, and scrawls the word “SOUL” on the chalkboard, urging his students to “touch that part of you that you’ve never dared to look at before.” Melinda finds Mr. Freeman odd, and tunes out his speech; she comments, however, that the clay streaks his hands leave on the chalkboard look like dried blood.
This passage introduces the art room, which will become a “sanctuary” for Melinda over the course of the novel. In contrast to the rigidity and unfriendliness that she finds everywhere else, the art room is a place of warmth, sunlight, and creativity, and is one of the few places that Melinda feels genuinely safe and accepted. Even within this safe space, however, Melinda sees darkness, in the forms of Ivy and the clay that looks like “dried blood” on the chalkboard. No matter where she is, Melinda cannot escape the nightmare that is constantly going on within her own mind.
Mr. Freeman tells his class that each of them will be focusing on only one object for the entire year, and has them pick pieces of paper out of a giant, hollow globe. He explains to them that the globe is itself a work of art, even though it has a hole in it because of an especially powerful kick from his soccer-playing daughter. He says that his students must learn how to get their object to express an emotion, and for the first time that day, Melinda is excited. She gets a tree, and though she believes that the assignment will be too easy, Mr. Freeman tells her that the tree is her “destiny.” They will begin, he says, by sculpting clay.
The tree, and Melinda’s attempts to make art, will become major symbols within the novel. As Melinda struggles to find her voice, she simultaneously attempts to make art about a tree that also expresses emotion. Her belief that the assignment will be easy is ironic, considering the importance that it will soon take on within her life and her narrative. Mr. Freeman’s comment that the tree is Melinda’s “destiny” heavily foreshadows its significance.