Throughout Speak, Anderson represents Melinda's trauma and recovery symbolically. Barbara Tannert-Smith refers to Speak as a "postmodern revisionary fairy tale" for its use of fairy tale imagery. She sees Merryweather High School as the "ideal fairy tale domain", featuring easily categorized characters—a witchy mother, a shape-shifting best friend, a beastly rapist. Mirrors, traditional fairy tale tools, signify Melinda's struggle with her shattered identity. After being raped, Melinda does not recognize herself in her reflection. Disgusted by what she sees, Melinda avoids mirrors. According to Don Latham, Melinda's aversion to her reflection illustrates acknowledgement of her fragmented identity. In fact, the only mirror Melinda can "see herself" in, is the three-way mirror in the dressing room. Rather than giving the illusion of a unified self, the three-way mirror reflects Melinda's shattered self. Likewise, Melinda is fascinated by Cubism, because it represents what is beyond the surface. Melinda uses art to express her voice. Her post-traumatic artwork illustrates her pain. The trees symbolize Melinda's growth. The walls of Melinda's closet are covered in her tree sketches, creating a metaphorical forest in which she hides from reliving her trauma. According to Don Latham, the closets in the story symbolize Melinda's queer coping strategies. Melinda uses the closet to conceal the truth.
Anderson incorporates precursor texts that parallel Melinda's experience. In the story, Melinda's English class studies Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, which features similar fairy tale imagery. Hester Prynne, an outcast protagonist like Melinda, lives in a cottage at the edge of the woods. Hester's cottage parallels Melinda's closet. For both women, the seclusion of the forest represents a space beyond social demands. The deciphering of Hawthorne's symbolism mimics the process faced by readers of Melinda's narrative. Similarly, Anderson connects Melinda's trauma to that of Maya Angelou, author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Melinda places a poster of Angelou in her closet. She admires Angelou because her novel was banned by the school board. Melinda and Angelou were both outcasts. Like Melinda, Angelou was silenced following her childhood rape.