Speak By Laurie Halse Anderson Summary and Analysis First Marking Period, Dinner Theater"-"Halloween""

Summary

Melinda's parents receive an update on her grades and confront her about her poor performance at dinner one night. Melinda is impervious to their comments and retreats to her room.

At school, Melinda finds biology tolerable as she has an ally of sorts in her lab partner, David Petrakis, a super-smart and polite nerd. In algebra, however, she struggles; while once she excelled at math, she doesn't see the practical application of algebra — and her grades reflect her lack of motivation and understanding. One day her algebra teacher, Mr. Stetman, sends her to the board, along with her ex-best friend Rachel. Melinda's terrified of how Rachel will try to humiliate her at the board, and chews on her lips in an attempt to devour herself and vanish.

On Halloween, Melinda's parents tell her she is too old for trick-or-treating, which Melinda is relieved to hear, because no one has asked her to do anything for Halloween. She recalls last year when she and her friends dressed as witches and haunted the town, feeling powerful. Melinda tries not to feel sorry for herself and spends the evening with a copy of Dracula and some candy corn.

Analysis

Melinda's interaction with her parents, her severe lip-biting, and her memories of last year's Halloween exemplify how much Melinda has lost through the trauma she survived over the summer. First, through Melinda's parents' dialogue you gain a better view of how much Melinda has changed. By referring to Melinda's past test performance, you see that Melinda used to do well in school and that her apathy toward her grades is a new development. However, Melinda, used to her parents' yelling, ignores their demands.

Additionally, when Melinda bites her lip when forced to work with Rachel in algebra, you see that her lip-biting is an ongoing motif signifying not only her silence, but also her desire to vanish. She is not only biting her lips as a metaphorical way to keep quiet about what happened to her, but also as a way to express her desire to "swallow myself." Readers should watch how this motif continues to evolve as Melinda's relationship to herself and her self-imposed silence change.

Finally, through Melinda's memory of last year's Halloween, you see how Melinda used to see herself. When she and her friends dressed up as witches, Melinda truly felt herself as part of a coven, a group of young women empowered by their connection to one another. Thus, you see just how complex Melinda's sense of loss is: Not only has the yet-to-be-named trauma she has experienced made her feel alone and vulnerable, but that loneliness and vulnerability has been compounded by being ostracized by her friends — she feels she has no one on whom to depend.

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At the end of the novel, what is the final touch that Melinda adds to the picture of her tree?




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