Much of Melinda’s cynicism within Speak springs from what she views as a fundamental disconnect between appearance and reality. She has experienced a deeply traumatic rape, yet her parents view her as a disappointment, her teachers view her as a problem, and her classmates view her as a freak. Because she is deeply perceptive and sensitive, Mel notices gaps between appearance and reality everywhere she goes. She sees the cracks in the façade of her parents’ marriage; the social climbing of her only friend, Heather; the petty tyranny of teachers who supposedly have her best interests at heart; and the true evil within her rapist, popular senior Andy Evans. She sees lies within institutions as well, believing that places like schools and shopping malls, and even concepts like family, are built on a foundation of lies. Mel is discouraged and depressed by these gaps, believing that she is the only one who can see them, and assuming that they make the world a false and deceitful place.
Through art, however, Mel learns that the relationship between appearances and reality is more complicated than she thinks. As she creates her own works, she comes to see that images and appearances can in fact express emotional truth. She ends the book understanding that, although she cannot fix the gap between appearances and reality, she can act as a bridge between the two.
Appearance versus Reality ThemeTracker
Appearance versus Reality Quotes in Speak
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.
My room belongs to an alien. It is a postcard of who I was in fifth grade.
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.
The cheerleaders cartwheel into the gym and bellow. The crowd 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.
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.
Cooking Thanksgiving dinner means something to her. It’s like a holy obligation, part of what makes her a wife and mother. My family doesn’t talk much and we have nothing in common, but if my mother cooks a proper Thanksgiving dinner, it says we’ll be a family for one more year. Kodak logic. Only in film commercials does stuff like that work.
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.
The next time you work on your trees, don’t think about trees. Think about love, or hate, or joy, or rage— whatever makes you feel something, makes your palms sweat or your toes curl. Focus on that feeling. When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.
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.
Slush is frozen over. People say that winter lasts forever, but it’s because they obsess over the thermometer. North in the mountains, the maple syrup is trickling. Brave geese punch through the thin ice left on the lake. Underground, pale seeds roll over in their sleep. Starting to get restless. Starting to dream green.
This looks like a tree, but it is an average, ordinary, everyday, boring tree. Breathe life into it. Make it bend— trees are flexible, so they don’t snap. Scar it, give it a twisted branch— perfect trees don’t exist. Nothing is perfect. Flaws are interesting. Be the tree.