What causes Melinda's silence in Speak?

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What keeps Melinda silent in Speak is her trauma, her insecurities, and her dark and negative emotions. She stays silent to cope with her feelings and thinks that no one will actually listen to her even if she does decide to speak, believing that no one actually sees her as someone worthy of love and attention.

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Melinda stays silent due to trauma and fear. The summer before entering high school, Melinda was sexually assaulted at a house party. She ends up calling the police which causes her peers to hate her for being a "snitch." However, they are unaware of the real reason she calls which completely isolates her.

This event is deeply traumatic, and it causes internal and external conflicts. Internally, Melinda is dealing with pain, confusion, self-loathing, and the fear of the incident repeating. The shock causes her to repress the event creating flashbacks and other symptoms of trauma. She ends up living in survival mode for most of the story which causes her to remain silent so as to not rock the boat at school or home.

Externally, her world is also a mess. Melinda's friends have abandoned her, and the school knows her as the girl who called the cops and ruined the party. Who is going to believe her, even if she does muster the courage to speak up? She is too afraid to deal with her trauma, and she doesn't want to reach out to anyone fearing they won't understand or won't believe her. Melinda's internal and external realities keep her in the trauma cycle.

While it may seem odd that she stays silent, it speaks to the very real experience of sexual assault many people face. Trauma and repression make it difficult for the victim to understand what happened, and the fear of consequence reinforces their silence. Melinda follows this pattern up until she finds a small support group that gives her the courage to stand up for herself.

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Before the start of her freshman year of high school, Melinda was raped by an older boy named Andy Evans during a house party. Melinda ended up calling the police, and the party was shut down. Her peers discovered that she called the police, and now is she ostracized by nearly everyone in the high school.

Melinda's traumatic experience prevents her from speaking out against her perpetrator and informing someone about her sexual assault. Her insecurities, isolation, and depression prevent her from verbally expressing her secret as she attempts to suppress the traumatic experience. The more she bottles her emotions, the more she suffers during her freshman year.

As an outcast in high school, Melinda keeps to herself, and her only vehicle of expression is her art. One of the prominent reasons she remains silent concerns her self-esteem and isolation. Melinda desires to experience high school like a typical freshman and wants her world to go back to normal. However, her entire life has changed since her traumatic experience, and she can no longer live as a carefree teenager. There is a part of Melinda that believes if she suppresses her emotions and does not speak about her assault, her life will go back to normal. However, she discovers that this is not the case and eventually finds the courage to speak, which begins the healing process.

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Melinda is silent because she has nothing to say to the people around her. Since being sexually assaulted, she's become increasingly isolated, separated from a world she no longer understands and which makes no attempt whatsoever to understand her. That being the case, Melinda retreats into a world of silence. From now on, she will only communicate, if at all, by her artwork, which will also allow her to express her innermost feelings.

As time goes by, Melinda finds that she doesn't really need to speak; her painting will do all the talking for her. As well being as a method of communication and a vehicle for personal expression, art becomes a way for Melinda to create her own world with its own rules. This gives her some measure of control over her own life and its direction, something she cannot enjoy out there in the real world.

For Melinda, the accompaniment to this art is muteness, and muteness becomes a defense mechanism—a way of coping with the many challenges of everyday life. To be sure, life is still hard for Melinda and will be for quite some time to come. But so long as she remains silent she can control her life to some degree, and for someone in Melinda's situation, that's very important indeed.

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I had to edit down the original question.  I invite you to resubmit the other part in a separate question as both really strike at the heart of Anderson's work.  In the end, why Melinda is silent is central to understanding both the implications of the work and her characterization with in it.  I tend to think that Melinda is silent because the world has no interest in what she has to say.  Consider that Melinda is silenced by nearly every possible force in the exposition of the book.  Socially, the kids target her because Melinda called the cops to bust up the party.  Intellectually, she is silenced by her teachers who seem more concerned with seeking to conform Melinda to their standards as opposed to understanding who she really is.  Parentally, Melinda finds that she has little sanctuary with them as her grades plummet. Consider that she has no place to sit in the lunchroom, confirming that she is silent because no group validates her voice.  At the same time, during the pep rally, when the kids are cheering, Melinda screams into her hands.  She is silenced.  No one hears her.  This is an embodiment of how Melinda is silenced by the world because she is seen as not having a part in it.  

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What keeps Melinda silent in Speak?

Melinda's life drastically changes when she's sexually assaulted at a party by a senior named Andy Evans just before she starts her freshman year in high school. She doesn't tell anyone about her traumatic experience and calls the police.

As a result, her peers blame her for ruining the party and no longer want to associate themselves with; according to them, she's a "snitch" and a party pooper. Her parents think that she might be dealing with depression and are too busy to actually try and be there for her. Her teachers have basically given up on her, due to her lack of interest and motivation in the classroom and her low academic performance. Thus, Melinda stays silent, convinced that no one actually wants to hear her voice.

Feeling weak, ignored, damaged, and scared, Melinda isolates herself and decides to stay silent and to express herself only through her art. She believes that if she doesn't speak and doesn't address her emotions, her trauma, and her fears that she will be able to manage her pain better and to control her environment. Silence is her defense mechanism and a way to retrieve or rather achieve the normalcy she desperately desires.

The trauma Melinda goes through destroys her confidence and her voice; she cannot find the strength to cope with the reality of the situation and with her compromised mental and emotional state, so she stays silent in the hopes that it will all eventually go away and even become better. Fortunately, she realizes that in order to move forward and rise above the pain and the fear, she must face and challenge her trauma and find her voice again, using it as a weapon against all the negativity in her life.

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