by Laurie Halse Anderson
As Melinda points out, "linda" means "pretty" in Spanish. When the kids in Spanish class get wind of this, they call her Me-no-Linda. She's the last one to argue with them. But, this changes. It sounds cheesy, we know, but by the end of the story Melinda is starting to see herself as pretty again. And when we say pretty, we mean beautiful, valuable, and deserving of the good in life.
Mr. Freeman's name is almost too obvious. He's the guy who helps Melinda find freedom through art and through conversation. But is Mr. Freeman himself free? He clearly loves teaching, but he's not free to teach the way he wants to. He does wonders with what he has, but he has to fight for every piece of charcoal and every sheet of paper. He has to answer to people who seem unreasonable, like Principal Principal, who is not, it seems, a lover of art.
A clue to Melinda's character is her use of nicknames for many of the other characters, usually ones she doesn't like. She first refers to Andy Evans as "IT." It's not entirely clear if she doesn't know his name at this point, or simply can't utter it. Why do you think Melinda's nicknames for people say about her? Do you think she's started this habit before or after her world came crashing down? Do you think she'll continue it? Should she?
Andy Evans is most defined by his actions in this novel. He rapes Melinda, terrorizes her, and tries to rape her a second time. Everything Melinda sees him do screams "predator." She doesn't see him do or say anything that would make us think differently. He doesn't save any babies from burning buildings, or help any kittens out of any trees.
Melinda is defined by lots of different actions, from self-destructive ones, like biting her lips, to courageous ones, like fighting off Andy with a mirror, a Maya Angelou poster, and a turkey-bone sculpture. (See the next-to-the-last chapter for details). This action defines her as someone who is learning to fight for herself and protect herself from harm. She's also becoming someone who is quick on her feet and alert to her surroundings.
Thoughts and Opinions
In "Narrator Point of View" and "Writing Style," we suggest that Speak is something like a record of Melinda's thoughts as she's having them. Her thoughts and opinions range from sarcastic to confused to cynical to hopeful. Her thoughts and opinions are how we get our information on all the other characters.
Within Melinda's thoughts, we can see how much the thoughts and opinions of others impact her. For example, according to Melinda most of the Merryweather High kids think she's a mean person, among other things (Melinda doesn't actually hear most of the rumors about her). For much of the story, Melinda's character is defined by her inability to talk back to these people, to tell them her side of the story.
The way Andy Evans is thought of by the student body is another example. A lot of people think he's bad news, but nobody will publically claim to be his victim. If he was ever reported to the school or the police, nothing came of it. As soon as people start coming forward, students have newer, clearer evidence to go on.
Speak is chock full of thoughts and opinions. Mr. Neck's opinion that the US should have stopped immigration in 1900 is deeply offensive to many of his students and many readers. David Petrakis compellingly argues against Mr. Neck's position, and he simultaneously expresses his belief in his right as a student to debate. Mr. Freeman's thoughts and opinions endear him to his students. But, they alienate him from school board members and administrators, which makes it harder for him to get the tools he needs for his students.