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When Silence Is Broken

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When Silence Is Broken

In Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, we take a walk through an everyday high school with a not-so-typical student. Symbolism is etched into every crevice of the novel in order to bring the story, and the near mute protagonist, to life. While there is a plethora of symbolism in Speak, perhaps the most prevalent would be the tree, Melinda's mouth, and her school's changing of mascots.

Trees are symbolic of strength, life, and good versus evil. In contrast, the tree symbolizes death in Speak since Melinda is drowning inside by hiding her secret. At the beginning of the school year, Melinda Sordino is entrusted an art assignment to focus on drawing trees, symbolic of her growth as a person throughout the novel. At first, Melinda struggled to put emotion and life into her art. Like her trees were originally, she seemed plain but was really full of life. Melinda is almost mute through the course of the school year. The reasoning behind this is not discovered until midway through the book. Melinda was raped at a party near the end of the summer. Her rape took place surrounded by trees, representing how the trees have a dual purpose in her life. The trees also symbolize her growth as a person after the rape. As she starts to understand that the rape wasn't her fault, her trees become more full of life. The changing trees portray how Melinda is finding it hard to settle on her feelings and find herself.

In addition to the tree, Melinda's mouth is also an important symbol in Speak. Her lips are sliced and tattered to the point where a student asks if Melinda's "got a disease or something" (p. 45). Throughout the novel, Melinda picks at her cracked lips, causing them to bleed. Also, while working for her father on winter break, Melinda cuts her tongue on the edge of an envelope. Her injury is so bad that her dad mentions "a need for professional help" (p. 74). Anderson does not include these details to revolt her audience. The condition of Melinda's mouth actually symbolizes the ugliness and shame she feels inside. Her swollen lips represent her inability to speak up about the rape. However, when Melinda finally confronts Andy about the rape, her self-image does a complete 180. When she finally speaks, Andy is the one whose "lips are paralyzed" (p. 195). Additionally, after Melinda lets go of her painful secret, she finally can successfully draw her tree for art class. Mr. Freeman's guidance steers Melinda toward freedom from her trapped mind. When he explains that "perfect trees don't exist", Melinda accepts the pain she has experienced, realizing that the rape was not her fault (p. 153).

Furthermore, Melinda experiences a powerful identity crisis throughout Speak. Her peers exclude and shun her. She acknowledges it herself by saying "I am Outcast" (p. 4). This is symbolized through



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