In English class, Melinda reads Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Hairwoman makes the class focus on discovering the symbols in the text and what they suggest. Melinda enjoys the work as she likens it to breaking a code. Rachel, however, voices her distaste for searching for symbols, suggesting that Hawthorne did not intentionally put them in the text. Hairwoman protests Rachel's point by assigning the entire class an essay on symbolism.
In art, Mr. Freeman finds a way around paperwork by painting all his students' names and progress on the wall of his classroom. He has also started a new painting, though right now it is just a sheet of deep, midnight blue. Melinda struggles with her tree assignment, reading over landscape books but not finding any inspiration.
During lunch one day, Heather and Melinda sit alone. Heather nervously approaches the subject of their friendship. After some hemming and hawing, she finally tells Melinda that she does not want to be friends anymore. Melinda is surprised by how upset she feels because she had not considered Heather a true friend until this moment. Heather tells her it is because Melinda has a bad reputation and that she needs to watch out for herself. Then she runs off to join the Marthas at their table.
Through the use of allusion, parallel characters, and the continued exploration of Melinda and Heather's friendship, Anderson deepens your understanding of Melinda and what she is feeling. First, Anderson creates an allusion to The Scarlet Letter by comparing Hester and Melinda's situations. In The Scarlet Letter, Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter "A" to signify the adultery she committed; however, Hester refuses to expose her lover to the same public shame she endures and is silent for much of the novel. Melinda can relate to Hester in several ways. For one, like Hester, she also wears her shame publicly through her nail- and lip-biting. Melinda even suggests that she would wear an "S" for shame (among other things) if she were forced to wear a letter. Finally, while both Melinda and Hester see silence as a solution, their respective silence becomes increasingly oppressive as their stories unfold. Hester is forced to suffer alone, without the companionship of her lover (who, in his own silence, suffers even more than she) just as Melinda suffers alone because of her silence.
In "Stunted," Anderson also draws deeper parallels between Mr. Freeman and Melinda. At this point in the novel, both of them are struggling with their relationship to their artwork. For example, Mr. Freeman has destroyed his commentary on the school board and is unsure what artistic project to take on next. Melinda continues to carve linoleum blocks, but without any true clarity of purpose. By showing an adult struggle alongside the teenage Melinda, Anderson deepens Mr. Freeman's character and his function as a role model for Melinda. Anderson creates an adult who is also struggling, but who refuses to give up.
Furthermore, as Heather and Melinda's friendship comes to an end, Anderson shows us the power of reputation in high school life. At the start of the novel, Melinda bemoans her new reputation as an outcast and has been unable to shake it throughout the school year. With Heather to distract her, Melinda has been able to ignore the impact that her own reputation has made on her inability to speak up. Heather, too, is affected by the issue of reputation. As someone who craves social approval, Heather can no longer deal with being friends with Melinda, who she sees as a threat to her quest. Heather cannot overcome her fixation on how others see her, and this prevents her from being a true friend to Melinda. Furthermore, Melinda cannot overcome her fear of additional social rejection if she were to speak up. Thus, the power of reputation prevents both of them from having deeper, less superficial relationships — with each other, as well with as others.