What are three significant settings in Speak and why are they important?

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emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Setting is absolutely an important element in the novel Speak, as the different settings tell readers a lot about Melinda's state of mind. 

One setting that is particularly revealing is Mr. Freeman's art room. When she first goes in, Melinda describes is as a dream following a nightmare. She says,

"The sun doesn't shine much in Syracuse, so the art room is designed to get every bit of light it can. It is dusty in a clean-dirt kind of way. The floor is layered with dry splotches of paint, the walls plastered with sketches of tormented teenagers and fat puppies, the shelves crowded with clay pots. A radio plays my favorite station" (pg 10).

The imagery here creates the sense of a very comfortable, very lived-in kind of space. It's not clean and sterile – what kind of art room would be? Instead, it's the kind of place where you can mess up and make mistakes and get inspired by other people. This is exactly what Melinda does there. Throughout the novel, she struggles to find her voice in the art room, through her art. Whether making her turkey carcass creation on pages 62-64 or struggling through her tree project with Picasso and Cubism on pages 118-9, Melinda is both frustrated and exhilarated in the art room. This makes it the perfect setting for the emotional growth and acceptance of her rape that she goes through during the course of the novel. 


Another important setting in the novel is Melinda's closet – an old, unused janitor's closet that she uses to hide in and skip classes. She says,

"This closet is abandoned–it has no purpose, no name. It is the perfect place for me" (pg 26).

As the novel progresses, readers can gauge Melinda's emotional state by how much time she's spending sequestered away in her closet. She runs to it often to avoid classes or people, so it seems like a safe place to escape her problems at first. But upon closer inspection, it actually seems to make things worse. After all, when she's in there she says, "Mostly I just watch the scary movies playing on the inside of my eyelids" (pg 50). Plus, her closet is the setting of Andy's second attack on her, at the end of the novel. This is important because it suggests that hiding away from your problems won't protect you. Melinda's worst nightmare invaded her "safe space" and she needed more to fight him off than just a closet to hide in. 


One other important setting is Merryweather High School itself. Though this setting is more in the background than the previous two, its effect can be seen through the whole novel. When we first meet Melinda, she's on her way to the first day of high school. Her sardonic comments and jaded attitude towards her school are amusing at first, but as the novel progresses, readers can see how much Merryweather High is lacking as a place of learning and growth. The school can't agree on a mascot (pg 49-50), teachers like Mr. Neck roam the halls looking for students to get in trouble and hold racist debates (pg 53-57), the guidance counselor and the principal can barely remember who Melinda is, let alone help her (pg 113-116). In Merryweather, Anderson demonstrates many stereotypes of what can make high school feel like the worst years of a person's life. For someone like Melinda, recovering (or not!) from a rape, these annoyances help exacerbate her depression, making recovery that much harder.