Speak Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Examine the role that female sexuality plays in Melinda's world. How does it affect Melinda differently from those around her?

    After the rape, Melinda notices the sexual objectification of women all around her, whether it be the celebration of the two-sided, sexually promiscuous cheerleaders or Heather's swimsuit modeling career. Melinda, as "Outcast" removes herself from her world, partly in order to remove herself from this system of objectification. As an outside observer, Melinda takes on a socially asexual role and is able to effectively critique the gender breakdown at her high school.

  2. 2

    What role does David Petrakis play in the novel? What is the significance of his character?

    David Petrakis is Melinda's smart and outspoken lab partner. She admires him from the beginning of the novel, when she explains that he is never bullied, even though he seems like the type that would be. As the story moves forward, David Petrakis challenges Mr. Neck and helps Melinda to do the same. He becomes a symbol of what Melinda would like to be: strong, well-spoken, independent. David is an able communicator, unlike Melinda. She calls even his silence "eloquent." Her crush on him develops not only because he is one of the only people to talk to her, but also because he possesses the personality she aspires to have. You may wish to consider the significance of this position being filled by a male character, instead of a female one.

  3. 3

    What role does confession play in the novel?

    Speak is a story about the struggle to confess. Melinda tries initially to hide behind silence, but as the novel progresses it becomes increasingly clear that she must confess before healing. There are two confessions: one to Rachel and one to Mr. Freeman at the very end of the book. While the one to Rachel is written and at first appears unsuccessful, it nevertheless has healing qualities, and ultimately leads to their presumed reconciliation. We see a stark difference in Melinda's actions and thoughts. The ultimate confession, the spoken one to Mr. Freeman, comes after everyone has already learned of Melinda's secret. The act of confessing in this novel, however, is more important than what is confessed. You may wish to address the fact that confessing sets Melinda free even though she is the victim, not the perpetrator of the crime.

  4. 4

    Can Speak be read as a feminist novel? Why or why not?

    Speak certainly contains many feminist overtones. Melinda regains her voice and strength after being silenced and dominated by a male. She writes a report on the suffragettes and then stands in front of the class protesting in what she believes to be a suffragette manner. Melinda also works hard to distinguish herself from the traditional gender roles at her high school, and she regularly satirizes the characters that happily fill those roles.

  5. 5

    What are the results and consequences of speaking in the novel? How does this affect Melinda?

    Melinda witnesses two very different reactions to speaking/speaking up. In some instances, she sees people humiliated, such as Rachel who speaks up against symbolism in English class. These instances reaffirm Melinda's belief that speaking only hurts you, never helps you. However, in other cases, such as David Petrakis' stance against Mr. Neck, Melinda observes the power of speaking up. These instances ultimately encourage her to grow and speak again.

  6. 6

    Melinda often reminisces about childhood. What does this say about Melinda?

    Melinda's childhood memories do not serve simply to indicate that Melinda was once happy, but now is not. To the contrary, they serve a much more complex purpose. Her reminiscences show her attention to identity and the fluidity of identity change. To Melinda, these identity changes have mostly been negative. There are also times when Melinda wishes to protect her friends from this change. When she sees Rachel kissing Andy Evans, Melinda upsets herself by remembering when she and Rachel were kids. Because Melinda has so far found adolescence so painful, she has a hard time letting go of her childhood, which seems idyllic in comparison. This contributes to the inability she feels to grow until the end of the novel.

  7. 7

    What is the function of Melinda's closet?

    Throughout the novel, Melinda wants to deflect attention from herself and conceal her thoughts. It thus makes sense that her safe haven would be an abandoned closet where she can shut herself away and see nobody. The closet is also a symbol traditionally used in the homosexual world. It functions similarly for Melinda. While she is in the closet, she has not opened up about her secret and not crossed a socially-charged line. It is only after she decides to leave her closet behind, and effectively "come out," that she is willing to confess, and can show her inner voice to her peers.

  8. 8

    What is the significance of Mr. Freeman acting as the recipient of Melinda's first spoken confession?

    Mr. Freeman is first and foremost the character that most obviously reaches out to Melinda and emphasizes the importance of recognizing and expressing emotions, not stifling them. She rejects his help at first, but eventually decides to confess to him. This is a sign of her growth as a person. Secondly, however, a confession to Mr. Freeman is significant because it falls in line with the traditional young adult novel form. Ultimately, in order to heal, Melinda must reach out to an older, wiser adult.

  9. 9

    Discuss the importance of the intertextual references in Speak.

    The most important references are to The Scarlet Letter and Maya Angelou. The Scarlet Letter features a woman who is exiled from society for sexual reasons. The relationship between this story and Melinda is obvious--though her classmates don't realize it, they have exiled her beacuse of the consequences of a sexual act. Maya Angelou's face appears on a poster in Melinda's closet. Angelou is known for her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a coming-of -age story that illustrates overcoming racism and moving past the trauma of being raped at a young age. She not only admitted what happened to her, but did so to the whole world, and so she serves as a role model for Melinda as she tries to find her voice.

  10. 10

    Examine the role that mirrors play in the novel.

    Melinda posses a distinct dislike for mirrors and her own reflection throughout the novel. This dislike indicates the self-loathing that Melinda feels after the rape. She turns the mirror around in her bedroom and covers the mirror in her closet. At the end of the novel, the shattering of the mirror, and Melinda's use of one of its broken shards to threaten Andy Evans, demonstrates a conquering of her self-loathing, and a turning of the loathing to the appropriate object, Andy.