Though Melody is narrating the book from a first-person perspective, she reveals in the first chapter that she has never spoken a single word aloud. Melody’s physical inability to speak leads to a number of conflicts whose importance escalates as the narrative progresses. When Melody is a baby, she is unable to tell her mother she likes the song “Elvira” when she hears it on the radio. Later, Melody slips from her wheelchair, and is unable to call for help. At Dr. Hugely’s office, she is unable to point out the flaws in his assessments of her intelligence. In class, she is unable to speak up to answer questions. Ultimately, Melody is unable to warn her mother that Penny has escaped the house: as a result, Melody’s mother backs her SUV over Penny’s leg.
Melody’s cerebral palsy paralyzes most of her body, leading people to presume that her mind is similarly disabled. She is treated with disregard by most people in society, most of whom won’t bother to address her directly or ask her name when they meet her. Melody’s physical appearance and inability to speak means she is isolated from social life on the playground, never asked to join in games. Even when Melody acquires the Medi-Talker device that allows her to communicate, she finds herself left out of after-school phone calls and genuine friendship.
Because of Melody’s physical appearance, most people underestimate her abilities and assume she is mentally challenged. The majority of able-bodied people Melody encounters in her life are unfamiliar with cerebral palsy, and as a result they underestimate her intelligence. Even when Melody proves her knowledge and earns a place on the quiz team, ableist discrimination guarantees that Claire and Molly don't believe her competence and accuse her of having cheated. Similarly, Mr. Dimming’s preference for able-bodied students is made apparent when he discourages Melody from trying to join the team. Ableism also pervades the physical landscape, exemplified by the lack of a wheelchair ramp at Linguini’s restaurant.
Melody’s support system is a vital component of her existence. The difficulties of caring for a child with developmental difficulties are made clear by Melody’s parents’ frustration and exhaustion—particularly because they both work. Melody is able to thrive with the physical and emotional assistance of her neighbor, Mrs. V, and her school aide, Catherine. At school, teachers such as Mrs. Shannon are instrumental in acquiring additional support workers and providing a more varied learning environment. When Melody rejects her quiz team’s pity, she is able to do so because she has a strong support system of people who truly care for her; Melody isn’t reliant on her classmates’ superficial and patronizing gestures of friendship.
Melody repeatedly encounters people who have patronizing attitudes toward her and her condition. The condescending comments and behaviors range from unconsciously ignorant to outright mean-spirited: Ms. Ochoa turns Melody into an object of curiosity by asking leading questions about how difficult it must have been for her to participate at the Whiz Kids competition, while Claire and Molly speak cruelly of Melody as though she cannot hear. Whether or not a character intends to offend Melody, the character’s implicit sense of superiority comes through.
The pressure to act in accordance with the rest of the group recurs throughout the novel, though each incidence of peer pressure comes in a different form. An example of positive peer pressure occurs when Melody arrives at school with her Medi-Talker for the first time; most students don’t know what to make of her newfound ability to speak, but once Connor—a popular student—approves, others follow suit. Rose evidently struggles with the allure of group social acceptance when Claire and Molly encounter her out with Melody’s family at the aquarium; Rose’s discomfort, coupled with her weak defense of Melody, suggests that she is unsure where her allegiances lie. Rose ultimately succumbs to the pressure of her peers when she decides not to call Melody’s family to inform them of the flight change.
Melody struggles throughout the novel to be seen and treated as a normal person, but the physical limitations of her cerebral palsy means she is treated as disabled no matter the circumstance. Even when Melody proves her intelligence on the quiz team, her achievements are considered by the media to be especially remarkable, even though her classmates scored just as high as she did in competition. By the end of the book, Melody compares her concerns to those of an average fifth-grader, realizing in the process that she is perhaps normal after all. Though other people may not recognize her normalcy, Melody finally understands that she is normal and has been all along. By reframing normalcy in this way, Melody defamiliarizes the concept of what it means to be a normal person.
Out of My Mind Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Out of My Mind is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Catherine is Melody’s aide at Spaulding Street Elementary. When she isn’t attending university, Catherine comes to the school to assist Melody with tasks throughout the school day. Catherine speaks to Melody as though she is intelligent and...