Rather than give his students grades, Mr. Freeman is evaluating them every week in a painted list on his wall. Next to Melinda’s name is a question mark. Her tree, she reports, is “frozen.” She claims that a kindergartner could do better, and that she doesn’t even know how many linoleum blocks she’s ruined. When Mr. Freeman suggests she use “a different medium,” she tries purple finger paints, but to no avail.
Melinda’s quest to create a tree continues, and though she is constantly discouraged, she still will not give up. Her remark that her tree is “frozen” is particularly telling, since she, too is frozen, unable to develop since the night of her trauma – the implication is that she can’t create the tree because she can’t really access her own self. The question mark by her name, too, represents her uncertainty about her own future.
Melinda looks at a book of landscapes brimming with trees and plants. She recalls that Mr. Freeman hasn’t said anything good to her since her turkey bird sculpture, and reports that Mr. Freeman has spent much of his time staring at a canvas “so blue it’s almost black” because of his fight with the school board. When Ivy asks him about the color, he describes it as “Venice at night, the color of an accountant’s soul…the blood of Imbeciles. Tenure…The heart of a school board director.” While some teachers believe that Mr. Freeman is having a breakdown, Melinda believes that he is “the sanest person” she knows.
Both Melinda and Mr. Freeman appear to be having creative crises. As she struggles to make the tree, he struggles with the oppressive forces of the school board. Unlike all other adults in the novel, Mr. Freeman is honest with his students, telling them how despairing and discouraged he feels. Melinda admires his ability to communicate, and appreciates his openness.