Back in the art room, Melinda describes Mr. Freeman’s popularity and coolness: the students are allowed to eat in his class, and to listen to music. She describes his room as “blooming,” and recounts how some students stay there during activity period and after school. A reporter has even come by to write about his irreverent mural. Melinda, meanwhile, cannot figure out her tree. Having ruined multiple linoleum blocks, she describes the tree outside her house, “a strong old oak with a wide scarred trunk” and leaves that reach up to the sun. Although she can imagine the tree perfectly, she thinks that the trees she carves look dead. She wishes she could quit, but feels compelled not to.
It is clear from this passage that many students, not just Melinda, consider Mr. Freeman’s room a safe space. Melinda is impressed and excited by her teacher’s success, but also compares herself negatively to him, believing that she will never actually be an artist. Despite her pessimistic attitude, however, Melinda refuses to give up the project. For once, she actually follows through (unlike with her basketball skills), a fact that emphasizes the importance of this project to her.
Melinda recalls how Principal Principal came by to inspect the room yesterday, but how the students hid their food and turned off the radio. Mr. Freeman, meanwhile, continued his school board mural. Melinda contemplates becoming an artist “if I grow up.”
Despite her discouragement, Mr. Freeman is clearly a role model for Melinda. Her comment about “if I grow up,” however, strikes a dark note. Melinda believes that she is so frozen and traumatized that she will never actually grow up, or perhaps, even more darkly, she has a sense that she won’t survive into adulthood.