Discussion Topic

Symbols and Their Significance in the Novel "Speak"


In "Speak," symbols like the tree, Melinda's art project, and the mascot reflect her emotional growth and struggle. The tree symbolizes her recovery and resilience, while her evolving art project mirrors her journey to self-expression. The changing school mascot represents Melinda's shifting identity and the chaos in her life. Together, these symbols underscore her path to healing and finding her voice.

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In the novel Speak, what are some important symbols?

 I think you are asking what are some symbols in the novel Speak by Laurie Anderson. If so, then here are some symbols from the novel: 

There is an important image of blood throughout the novel. The blood symbolizes the pain Melinda feels throughout the piece. When Melinda makes Andy bleed, it symbolizes retribution for the pain he caused Melinda. 

Trees, birds and the natural world all offer Melinda comfort and solice. She finds knowledge and insight to her situation under the moon's light. The rape occurs not in the moonlight, in the darkness, a symbol of evil and secrets. 

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In the novel Speak, what are some important symbols?

We are all very familiar with objects that symbolize something. Perhaps you're familiar with the lit up light bulb to symbolize a great idea that someone's had. And everybody knows the symbols we use in Mathematics on an everyday basis: + (add), - (subtract), x (multiply), / (divide), = (equals), < (less than), and > (greater than).  Then there's the percent sign (%) that means a part of one hundred, the dollar sign ($) which stands for money, the (&) sign which means "and", and the number sign (#). The # sign can also stand for the number of pounds that something weighs.

The American bald eagle is used as the symbol of the United States because an eagle is strong, it soars between heaven and earth, and it isn't afraid of anything. The American flag itself is made up of colors that symbolize three things:  red (courage and valor), white (purity and innocence), and blue (vigilance, perseverance, and justice). An olive branch has been used for centuries as a symbol of peace.

Chemistry is full of symbols. Just take a look at the Periodic Table of the Elements and you can see one or two letters that each represent a natural element.  One such example is the letter "O," representing the element oxygen. 

The Chinese have symbols for everything.  Two well-recognized ones are "yin" and "yang," which mean "dark" and "light." The two placed together make up a complete circle and represent balance and completeness. The one is not without the other.

These are just a few of the symbols I know of. 

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In the novel Speak, what are some important symbols?

A symbol in Speak is the Ho-Ho.  It symbolizes the cruelty of other students who call Melinda a “ho.”

On the first day of school, Melinda gets accosted with a Ho-Ho wrapper on the bus.  It foreshadows the hell that is to come.  Melinda called the police on a party just before school started.  She was raped by a classmate, but the rest of the students don’t know that.  They consider her a slut and a snitch.

A guy behind me unwraps his breakfast and shoots the wrapper at the back of my head.  It bounces into my lap—a Ho-Ho.(p. 3)

On her first day of school, Melinda’s old friends ignore her and mouth insults.  She tries to make it through the day alone, but at lunch a boy throws a Ho-Ho again, this time one of the basketball team members.  She also gets hit with his mashed potatoes.  Even though he apologizes, she is the laughing stock.

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In the novel Speak, what are some important symbols?

The tree is an important object from Speak that has symbolic meaning.

The tree is very important to Melinda's freshman year. When Mr. Freeman asks students to pull random pieces of paper that will serve as their art project, Melinda pulls the paper that has "tree" on it. She wants to put it back.  As with so much in her freshman year, Melinda has little faith that it will work out.  The early going proves her right. Melinda struggles to create her tree.  This is symbolic of Melinda's freshman year, in general, where she struggles to find her place and find any happiness. There is a trial and error process as Melinda creates her tree. Sometimes, it's too simplistic, symbolic of Melinda's friendship with Heather. Other times, it's too formulaic, representative of how school officials and Melinda's parents want her to behave.

As the year progresses, trees come to symbolize Melinda's own growth and development.  For example, when Mr. Freeman offers feedback on her tree, he is speaking for more than the tree: 

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.

Melinda's need to "be the tree" is symbolic of how she has to overcome the challenges that plague her.  She must be willing to live with the "scar" of what happened to her and be "flexible" to avoid snapping entirely.  Like her art, Melinda's growth goes through phases:

My tree is definitely breathing; little shallow breaths like it just shot up through the ground this morning. This one is not perfectly symmetrical. The bark is rough. I try to make it look as if initials had been carved in it a long time ago. One of the lower branches is sick. If this tree really lives someplace, that branch better drop soon, so it doesn't kill the whole thing. Roots knob out of the ground and the crown reaches for the sun, tall and healthy. The new growth is the best part.

In her first year of high school, Melinda finds her voice in "new growth." Challenging Nicole in tennis, facing down Mr. Neck's unfairness regarding her suffragette report, taking it upon herself to clean and maintain the yard, breaking through her own silence to warn others of "IT," and then personally speaking to Rachel/ Rachelle about it show how "roots knob out of the ground and the crown reaches for the sun." The growth of Melinda's tree in art is symbolic of her emerging voice.

Trees occupy a symbolic importance in Speak even outside Melinda's own artwork.  For example, when her father talks about why a tree is being chopped down, it is symbolic of the life Melinda must lead:

He's not chopping it down. He's saving it. Those branches were long dead from disease. All plants are like that. By cutting off the damage, you make it possible for the tree to grow again. You watch—by the end of summer, this tree will be the strongest on the block.

While Melinda dismisses her father as "pretending to know more than he does," his words do symbolize Melinda's own struggle.  She must save herself by "cutting off the damage."  When Melinda fights back against Andy and defeats him, it is clear that she has become "the strongest on the block."  

From "pruning" to "final cut," the tree symbolizes the arc of Melinda's development. When she is finished with her tree, she sees it as a symbol of her own life: "I look at my homely sketch. It doesn't need anything. Even through the river in my eyes I can see that. It isn't perfect and that makes it just right."  The tree is a symbol from Speak that represents how growth is an essential part of Melinda's life.

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What objects symbolize the characters in the book "Speak"?

I would say that Melinda herself is reminiscent of the germinating seed that she works with in her biology class, and she ‘grows’ into the tree that she produces in her art class. Her friend Ivy also symbolises growth as she reveals the normality of experiences which affect the mind with her fear of clowns.

David would be represented by a camera after his filming of the racist teacher, and also perhaps the American flag, as this represents the principles which David was standing up for.

Andy, Melinda’s attacker, is represented by blood. When Melinda spills his blood, it is a strong symbol that she has avenged his ill-treatment of her.

Mr Freeman the art teacher is referred to as a "grasshopper", but his name, like other labels Melinda gives in the text, is more indicative of who he is - a free man content in himself and driven to help others feel the same. Mr Neck is a racist bully, a stereotypical redneck hated by Melinda.

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