What does the quote, "When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time," from Speak mean?

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Mr. Freeman gives Melinda a ride to the store and begins talking to her about art. When Melinda tells Mr. Freeman that she doesn't know what he means when he says that she needs to put more emotion into her artwork, Mr. Freeman challenges Melinda to think of some type of feeling before she works on her next project. Mr. Freeman urges Melinda to tap into her emotions before he says,

When people don't express themselves, they die one piece at a time (Anderson, 122).

Mr. Freeman is essentially saying that it is dangerous for humans to repress their emotions, even if the emotions are difficult and painful to acknowledge. According to Mr. Freeman, one must express oneself in order to live a fulfilling and content life. His comment also directly relates to Melinda, who represses her emotions, thoughts, and memories by refusing to speak about what happened at the party last summer. Mr. Freeman seems like he is aware that Melinda is experiencing an internal struggle and encourages her to express her emotions through her art. He does not want to see Melinda emotionally suffer as a result of repressing her negative emotions.

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Mr. Freeman says that quotes on page 122 of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. Mr. Freeman is Melinda's art teacher and the one adult who seems to register that something significant and traumatic has happened to Melinda... something that needs to be expressed. Mr. Freeman realizes Melinda is slowly withering away and her lack of self-expression and inability to communicate are two major causes for Melinda's withering. Mr. Freeman attempts to use his class and its assigned project (to artistically represent one thing over and over again over the course of the class— in Melinda's case, a tree) to crack open Melinda's hardened emotional exterior and to coax her out of her depressed stupor. The part of his speech following this quote is even more telling:

"You'd be shocked at how many adults are really dead inside—walking through their days with no idea who they are, just waiting for a heart attack or cancer or a Mack truck to come along and finish the job. It's the saddest thing I know."

Mr. Freeman doesn't want to see Melina fail or throw her life away on a passionless existence comprised only of suffering. 

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