by Laurie Halse Anderson
Note to Shmoopers:
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Rachel: "How do you know what he meant to say? I mean, did [Hawthorne] leave another book called 'Symbolism in My Books'? If he didn't then you could just be making all of this up." (49.11)
Speak opens up a debate on symbolism through Rachel's challenge to Hairwoman's belief that Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlett Letter has a code of symbols for the reader to crack. The symbols, Hairwoman claims, give clues to character's emotions. When Laurie Halse Anderson was a student, she actually made this same challenge to her English teacher. This tells us that we shouldn't get too carried away with symbolic interpretation in Speak, and that we should just admit we are making it all up.
We must also suggest that The Scarlett Letter itself acts as a kind of symbol in Speak. As you probably know, it's the story of a young woman scorned by her community because she had sex with a man who was not her husband. She has to wear a big red "A" on her clothes (A for Adultery). Melinda is scorned by her community because she commits a very different socially unacceptable act – calling the police to the party. But, the real socially unacceptable act that troubles Melinda is Andy's. Until she learns to deal with shame and realizes the rape is not her fault, she wears it like an invisible scarlet letter inside her.