Discussion Topic

The significance of the title "Speak" in the overall work

Summary:

The title "Speak" signifies the protagonist's struggle with finding her voice after a traumatic event. It underscores the importance of communication and self-expression as she learns to confront her past and reclaim her identity. The act of speaking becomes a metaphor for healing and empowerment throughout the narrative.

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Why is the book titled Speak?

Ultimately, this book by Laurie Halse Anderson is called Speak because it tells the story of one girl's journey toward speaking up and sharing her experiences after a traumatic event.

For a substantial portion of the story, Melinda Sordino is extremely reluctant to speak. As readers, we find out that her silence stems from an incident that occurred during a summer party, when she was raped by an older boy at her school. When this traumatic event took place, Melinda was unable to verbally defend herself and in the aftermath, she is too traumatized to verbalize what had occurred to the police (or anyone else). She struggles to even think about what happened and refuses to say the perpetrator's name for a large portion of the narrative.

Readers witness Melinda go through most of her first year of high school in silence and isolation, not speaking to her classmates, teachers, or parents. In contrast to her outward silence, Melinda's narration shows that she is opinionated, intelligent, funny, and deeply perceptive—though her quietness means that few people know or appreciate these sides of her. Melinda experiences bullying and her actions are constantly misunderstood, yet her trauma prevents her from speaking her mind and opening up to others.

Anderson has been an outspoken critic of the culture of silence that surrounds sexual assault, arguing that this only further traumatizes and isolates survivors of sexual assault. In Melinda's case, we see someone who has literally internalized this culture of silence, bearing the burden of her assault alone because she feels she cannot speak about what has happened to her.

Because Melinda's silence is a directly associated with her trauma, her journey to regain her voice is really a journey to come to terms with and begin to heal from her assault. Her healing comes primarily through art, which serves as a nonverbal way for her to express her emotions and pain. As she grows stronger, Melinda uses written communication to warn other people about her attacker, Andy Evans. Finally, at the end of the narrative, Melinda uses her voice to defend herself and to hold her attacker accountable for his actions.

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What is the significance of the title "Speak"?

The title is significant in several ways. Melinda's inability to speak reflects her inability to tell anyone about her rape. It is such a horrific event that Melinda can't find the words to express what happened, much less how she feels about it. She somehow, as many rape victims do, blames herself in thinking she could have stopped it from happening.

The speech used by the characters in the book also show how people talk at each other rather than to each other. When the other students blame Melinda for calling the police, their speech is used to condemn her behavior and attitude. Even her parents, especially her mother, don't use speech as a tool for communication.

I think the title is also suggestive that there are other forms of communication besides talking that people miss. Melinda begins communicating through her art.

Melinda's ability to speak is related to her psychological well-being, suggesting that speech is so important to expressing our emotions. When we can't express them, we withdraw into ourselves. Right after the rape, Melinda begins her decline in her speech. The more she struggles by herself to come to terms with the rape, the less she's able to say. Melinda's urge to speak surfaces when she sees she has to help Rachel to prevent Andy from raping her as well. When she's able to tell about the rape, the more she's able to speak. Being able to share it with others brings back her speech and will lead to her healing.

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What is the significance of the title, Speak, in the overall work?

"Speak" has numerous meanings in the novel. Most obviously, it refers literally to Melinda's inability to use oral speech after Andy rapes her. In addition, people who could speak but fail to do so are invoked by the term, especially her parents but also her classmates. The difficulties she experiences in communicating with them in the months following the sexual assault exacerbate her silence and delay her recovery.

Speak can also mean the other forms of communication that Melinda does use—including art and writing, which either take the place of oral speech and allow her to express things within herself that would not necessarily lend themselves to oral speech. David's advice to "speak up for yourself" is also crucial, as she gains a caring friend and decides the choice is in her power. The change in her confidence is also indicated when Melinda is finally able to speak—loudly—when Andy begins to assault her again.

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