The school is in the depths of winter, and Mr. Freeman is in trouble after having given A’s to all of his students. He is so depressed that he has stopped working on his mural, instead sitting dejectedly on his stool. In the freezing cold art room, Melinda starts a new linoleum block, commenting that her last tree looked as if it had died of a fungal infection.
Mr. Freeman’s misfortunes make it clear that even the most confident and capable characters within the world of the novel can still be victimized and bullied. Melinda, meanwhile, remains determined to carve her tree.
Melinda gashes herself with her chisel, getting blood on the linoleum; all the students turn to stare at her. She refuses to go to the nurse, and Mr. Freeman disinfects her chisel. Instead of giving it back to her, however, he uses it to slash the canvas of his mural, “ruining it” as all the watching students “gasp.”
Once again, blood is a powerful and important symbol within the world of the novel. Just as Melinda damages herself, so too does Mr. Freeman damage his painting.