How is Melinda Sordino suffering from post traumatic stress disorder? What effects does it have on her?

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xmcmillin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel, the main character Melinda Sordino is indeed suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. This struggle is the biggest conflict the character has to over her, and she is in a bad way until she finds an outlet which allows her to slowly overcome her sadness and anger and come to terms with what happened.

Melinda's struggle with PTSD is most obviously seen with her inability to articulate what has happened to her. This is what the title of the novel refers to. The art she creates in school eventually allows her to deal with her emotions regarding what happened to her, which was a date rape. At this point, she is able to "speak" and tell others what took place.

emilyknight7 | Student

Melinda Sordino is the protagonist and narrator of the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. She is indeed suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, stemming from a date rape she experienced during a summer party that occurs before the action of the novel and before Melinda begins her freshman year at Merryweather High School. Because her rapist is a senior at the high school, his presence and the memory of his actions are inescapable, making her trauma worse.

Melinda's PTSD affects her live in several ways. The most clear effect comes from the title of the book - Speak. Only Melinda doesn't speak. Time and again in the novel, readers see an ellipsis (...) where Melinda chooses to say nothing rather than respond to other people's questions, concerns, anger, etc. Not only does she tell no one about the rape for months, she communicates almost none of her other thoughts and feelings either. As an explanation, she narrates, "It is easier not to say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say" (pg 9). Even though she seems to know she needs help, Melinda believes for a long time that there is no point in asking for it.

A related motif in the novel that shows Melinda's PTAD is the motif of mouths. Melinda mentions many times in the book that her mouth is chewed and scabbed. Readers can infer that she has developed a nervous habit of chewing on her lips, probably when she is feeling particularly frightened or confronted with her attack. Other characters notice this too. One of The Marthas, Siobhan (pronounced Sha-von, by the way - it's an Irish name) says about Melinda, "She's creepy. What's wrong with her lips? It looks like she's got a disease or something" (pg 45). Here again, Melinda's symptoms are driving the people around her away. Instead of seeing her actions as a cry for help or the result of a traumatic incident, Melinda's classmates are disgusted and mock or ignore her.

Another huge effect is how withdrawn she becomes from the world around her. She makes no effort to reconnect with her friends and explain herself or to find new friends - Heather and her only begin hanging out due to Heather's ambitions of popularity and fear of being alone. Instead of going to class, Melinda hides in her closet, or skips school altogether. As the principal says in the parent meeting on page 114, Melinda was a friendly, bright student in middle school, so these behaviors are clearly new and out of character for her. Yet the adults in her life react with anger rather than concern, confirming Melinda's belief that no one cares enough to hear the truth about the rape.

Melinda also experiences a number of unhealthy behaviors and signs of depression. These are more subtle; Melinda casually mentions them in her narration of the story and they are easy to miss. Added up, however, they show a serious problem. One of these signs of depression is her sleeping habits. Melinda mentions several times her difficulty sleeping, or staying asleep. There are some excellent quotes that showcase this in another answer. Both depression and PTSD (of which depression is a symptom) affect people's sleep habits, and Melinda is no exception.Another sign is her eating. She mentions a few times eating more than is normal for a 14 or 15-year-old girl. One example is when she goes to buy jelly doughnuts. Rather than getting one as a treat, she gets several. This might seem like no big deal, but later in the story, she mentions outgrowing her clothes and having to buy new jeans with her mother. A careful reader can see and infer that Melinda is overeating from the stress caused by her attack.

Finally, the symptom that gives new readers the clues they need to figure out Melinda was raped - her flashbacks. Again, a previous answer gave an excellent description of Melinda's most prominent flashback to her rape, while dissecting frogs in biology class. However, it's also important to consider when Melinda flashes back to recall the night of the rape in detail - right after declining an invitation to a pizza party given by David Petrakis. Melinda likes David. She's angry she can't feel safe enough to go to the party. But she also knows that because of Andy's rape, she will be living in this state of fear for a long time. That's why a simple invitation to a group pizza party from a nerdy boy in her biology class fills her with fear. A clear symptom of her PTSD.



caitlinanderle | Student

Melinda Sordino's PTSD presents itself in a variety of ways following her attack at the party. She completely isolates herself from the world, lets Heather use her to gain popularity because she doesn't feel comfortable speaking for herself, experiences triggers while at school, and also begins to suffer from depression.

Although a portion of Melinda's feelings come from the idea that nobody in her school understands what she has gone through, it's more about the fact that nobody bothered to ask if something might be wrong, not even the girls that claimed to be her friends. Even Heather, who eventually works her way into Melinda's self imposed social exile, never bothers to think that there might be something wrong with the girl that never really speaks and doesn't care about joining organizations at school. Although Melinda's parents are aware of a change in Melinda's personality and disposition, as evidenced when they meet with the guidance counselor, neither of them have sought to figure out what might be causing Melinda's struggles with school and her sudden isolation.

One of the biggest indicators of Melinda's PTSD is her refusal to refer to Andy by his name until she comes to term with his attack on her at the end of the novel. Up until that point, any time she sees him at the school, she refers to him as "IT." Melinda's refusal to confront what happened is consistent with someone suffering the trauma of a sexual assault. In addition, Melinda faces triggers at school when she sees Andy, particularly on the day that she sees Rachel getting out of Andy's car and at the pep assembly. These triggers send her into panic attacks until she can come to terms with what happened and learn how to cope. 

deamicel-285 | Student

Speak is a profound work of literature that not only leaves its audience guessing throughout most of the story, but also teaches valuable lessons as the plot unfolds. We meet Melinda Sordino, our narrator, and immediately we know something is out of place. She’s withdrawn, has no friends at school, and genuinely doesn’t act like a high school freshman entering a new and exciting chapter in her young life. Throughout the novel, readers begin to find out why Melinda is the way she is now, and we can immediately sympathize. Over the summer, Melinda was just like every other girl. She had friends, a level of popularity, and was excited to start her high school career. It’s when she attended a party that things got out of hand and her world turned upside down. Under the influence of some alcohol, and in need of some fresh air, Melinda wanders outside and comes face-to-face with Andy Evans. While she hasn’t even begun her freshman year yet, Andy is an established senior who chooses to take advantage of her vulnerability and rapes her. Confused, intoxicated, and out of place, Melinda finds herself calling local authorities. When word gets around the party that she alone is responsible for their fun time being ruined, everyone she knew turn their backs on her, leaving her feeling more alone and scared than she knew possible. Spending time in solitude, not talking to anyone, her rapid decline in personality, and surrounding herself with only her inner monologue is what brings on her depression and PTSD. No one at school or in her life knows what happened that fateful night in the summer whereas it traumatized her and left her no outlet or safe haven for help. None of Melinda’s peers know the pain of her rape or her loneliness and Melinda finds that when she speaks, she only seems to dig herself into a deeper hole. What she needs is compassion and someone to lend an ear, but not having an ounce of that as she passes old friends in the hall puts her so far into her shell, that the reader has to wonder if she can be rescued. Day-in and day-out, Melinda suffers alone and can’t bring herself to speak to anyone. Depression takes her over and her grades slip completely, making time at school even worse. When she takes the next step and begins skipping classes and hiding in the janitor’s closet, her parents and teachers take notice but she’s just being a moody teenager in need of some attention. The ignorance of those around her are what cause her PTSD to hit rock bottom. Melinda’s complete 180 flies under the radar by most she encounters. Only two people take notice of Melinda’s withdrawn nature among the student body; her art teacher, Mr. Freeman, and her lab partner, David Petrakis. Through their concern and encouragement, Melinda is eventually able to express herself and find her voice again, stop hiding from the world, and speak the way she should have in the beginning.

korinicolewilliams | Student

Melinda Sordino is the main character of the 1999 novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. As a freshman in high school, Sordino is raped by a senior, which traumatizes her and triggers the onslaught of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Sordino spends most of the book in denial and tries to erase the trauma through superficial methods like bathing. The rape distances her from her parents, whom she already has a rocky relationship with, and isolates her from classmates as they don’t believe her. They blame her for the arrests that took place at the party at which she was raped and they essentially shun her.

In addition, as many rape victims do, Sordino blames herself for the rape and justifies that by saying she should have never gone to the party in the first place. She stops speaking which can be seen as a form of mutism that isolates her even further. Writing takes the place of her main form of communication and art helps her slowly express herself.

All of this triggers a depression. Sordino begins self harming. Page 87 of the book states that she takes the sharp end of a paperclip to cut her wrist. However, it is only by speaking openly about the rape that she is able to begin coming to terms with it.

megankemple9191 | Student

In the novel, Melinda presents many classic symptoms of PTSD. The most striking is her complete change in personality. Before the party, she is fairly popular, at least enough to be invited out. After the incident she is withdrawn, isolated, and refuses to speak to anyone at all. She shuts everyone out including her family, friends, and teachers to protect herself. She stops eating, has trouble sleeping, and harms herself by biting her lips and nails. She is depressed and anxious because her attacker is constantly present, and she has flashbacks when she sees him. Melinda is a great example of the way PTSD can completely transform a life.  

madeleinek1 | Student

Melinda shows some characteristic signs of PTSD throughout the novel. She is withdrawn from her friends and family, she experiences intrusive thoughts of her sexual assault, and she is generally emotionally distressed. The theme of silence is pervasive throughout Speak, as we see Melinda retreat into herself, paralyzed from the traumatic experience of rape and alienated from her friends for calling the police at the party. She does connect with her art teacher, who encourages her to use the art as a form of catharsis. This is a wonderful tool used by therapists to help uncover the source of the trauma in a person with PTSD, examine it, and help the person move forward. Melinda is able to begin to let go in the end, even after she is shamed for sharing the experience with her friend. The novel ends with the hope that Melinda can heal and recover from the trauma.