Study Guide

Speak Chapter 49

By Laurie Halse Anderson

Chapter 49

Code Breaking

  • It's Nathaniel Hawthorne Month at school. Melinda feels sorry for Hawthorne. She feels bad that the class is tearing apart every line of The Scarlet Letter.
  • Hairwoman says that to understand Hawthorne, you must understand his elaborate system of symbols.
  • Melinda thinks this is a little silly, but she enjoys it too. It's cool to think of Hawthorne writing in a kind of code to get his point across, while also keeping things interesting.
  • Hairwoman wants to know what "the house with bits of glass embedded in the walls" (49.7) symbolizes in Hawthorne's novel. Nobody answers.
  • Hairwoman says that glass in the walls suggests a house where something dangerous is going on.
  • Rachel, Melinda's ex-best friend, challenges Hairwoman. She argues that if Hawthorne wanted us to read his novels symbolically, he would have written a book called "Symbolism in My Books" (49.11). Otherwise, how can we know that Hawthorne meant us to interpret these symbols in a particular way?
  • Hairwoman replies, "This is Hawthorne, one of the greatest American novelists! He didn't do anything by accident – he was a genius" (49.12).
  • Rachel says that she actually likes the story, but she doesn't believe in reading it symbolically.
  • Hairwoman says that symbolism in Hawthorne is like the multiplication tables in math. Once you understand, it all makes sense.
  • She's really mad though – and she assigns an essay. Now everybody is mad at Rachel.
  • See what happens when you say what you believe?