by Laurie Halse Anderson
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak is a novel that makes a definite argument. The title gives us a pretty big hint as to what this might be. In short, the novel argues that if you are a victim of a sexual assault, you will need to speak about it in order to heal. furthermore, you need to report your attacker. Hopefully, reporting the attacker will make it less likely he or she will hurt you, or other people, again.
As you probably know, there are lots of complicated reasons why victims of sexual assault might have a hard time talking about what's happened to them. Like Melinda Sordino, star of Speak, they might be ashamed or afraid of what will happen if they tell.
At the end of the day, some victims might choose not to talk about what's happened to them – ever. Is it possible that some victims heal and recover even if they don't talk about being sexually assaulted? Should a person's right not to speak be respected? These are questions for readers to think about along with Melinda as they read the novel.
For Melinda, it would have been very difficult to heal if she hadn't had the courage to finally start telling people that Andy Evans raped her. Her silence is something she hides behind out of fear and shame, among other reasons. After she passes out during frog dissection in biology class, she thinks, "The whole point of not talking about it, of silencing the memory, is to make it go away. It won't. I'll need brain surgery to cut it out of my head" (38.5).
Melinda is constantly being urged to speak, often by celebrities she imagines talking to her. For example, when Melinda feverishly imagines daytime talk show hosts giving her advice, she hears Jerry Springer telling her, "Speak up […], Melinda, I can't hear you!" (76.6).
The real people in Melinda's life are also urging her to talk. Mr. Freeman, Melinda's art teacher, is the only adult who can clearly see that Melinda is holding a secret that's tearing her apart. He encourages her to express her emotions through art and to speak her secrets out loud.
David Petrakis, Melinda's lab partner in science class, might or might not realize Melinda is choking on a secret, but he is definitely a believer in speaking up. At one point in the story Melinda refuses to read the class her paper on "suffragettes" who fought for women's right to vote, own property, and have the same access to education as men. David tells her:
"But you got it wrong. The suffragettes were all about speaking up, screaming for their rights. You can't speak up for your right to be silent. That's letting the bad guys win. If the suffragettes did that, women wouldn't be able to vote yet." (73.7)
Ultimately, Melinda begins to talk about the rape when Andy starts dating Melinda's ex-best friend, Rachel Bruin. Melinda's sense of personal responsibility overrides her fears. When she starts speaking out, she begins getting back some of the power and confidence she lost when Andy raped her. (For more on this, check out "What's Up with the Ending?")