by Laurie Halse Anderson
Speak Theme of Violence
Merryweather High, the primary setting of Speak is a violent, scary place, at least if you are ninth grader Melinda Sordino, school outcast. Everybody blames her for calling the police at the end-of-the-summer party and getting them all in trouble. She gets pushed in the halls, gets her hair pulled, and she's even pushed down the bleachers at the pep rally. An even more intense violence is going on inside Melinda in the form of a memory she's trying to get rid of – the memory of being raped at the party. But how can she forget the assault when her rapist, Andy Evans, goes to her school? Whenever Melinda encounters him, he commits violence against her – verbal violence, physical violence, psychological violence. Don't get the wrong idea about this novel, though. This is a hopeful story. It's about how speaking the truth can sometimes stop violence and lead to a gentler world.
Questions About Violence
- Can you find examples of verbal violence in Speak?
- Why can't Melinda stop biting her lips? Why does she scratch her wrists?
- Why does Melinda feel that hurting her body makes her hurt less inside? What would you do if you had a friend who was hurting him/herself like Melinda?
- Why do the other students at school bully Melinda?
- Why isn't Melinda sure if what Andy did to her was, in fact, rape? How does she define rape? How do you define it?
- What can Melinda do to better prepare in case she's attacked again? Is it important for people to know self defense? Why, or why not?
Chew on This
Melinda uses just enough force to stop Andy, even though she wants to kill him; this shows that she is gaining lots of control over her emotions.
Andy's violence against female students at Merryweather is part of what gives the school such a sick atmosphere.