Speak Summary and Analysis of Part 2: Hard Labor - Dark Art


After a couple days of winter break, Melinda’s parents decide that she needs to get out of the house. She first accompanies her mother to Effert’s, where she is put to work folding shirts in the basement stockroom. After folding a few shirts, Melinda slacks off, which gets her the approval of the employees. In the car home, however, Melinda notices her mother’s stress and feels bad that she did not work harder. The next day, Melinda goes to work with her father. He sells insurance and spends the day on the phone with his feet up on the desk. Melinda feels this is unfairly relaxing compared to her mother’s job. Her father asks her to put calendars into envelopes. While licking an envelope closed, Melinda cuts her lip on the paper. Her father is angry when he sees how many of the envelopes she has bled on.

When school begins again, the cold weather has finally pushed Ms. Connors, the gym teacher, to move gym class inside. The class spends the first day of indoor gym making foul shots at the basketball hoop. Melinda is surprisingly talented at this and Ms. Connors attempts to recruit her for the basketball team. However, after looking over Melinda’s report card, she informs her that her grades are not high enough. This suits Melinda fine, as she has no desire to run and sweat anyway. She is convinced, however, to stay and watch the basketball team practice. Ms. Connor pushes her to teach the basketball team how to swish a foul shot. Melinda is unable to say no, and instead does not respond.

Art class continues to be Melinda’s favorite class. Mr. Freeman is growing increasingly popular with the students because of his laid-back teaching style that encourages creativity and allows them to eat and listen to music in class. Melinda struggles with her tree assignment. She has been trying to carve a tree into a linoleum block but cannot carve anything that she is pleased with.

One day, Heather asks Melinda to come over after school. She sobs to Melinda about the Marthas’ displeasure with her and her work. To prove herself, Heather must make the posters for the upcoming canned food drive. She begs Melinda to help her and Melinda, once again unable to say no, agrees.

They have begun dissecting frogs in Melinda’s biology class. Even the rowdy students in the back of the room are interested enough to keep quiet. Melinda makes the first cut in the frog assigned to her and David Petrakis. Its stillness reminds her of the night of the party, of the leaves in her hair, and of the smell of dirt. She faints. She hits her head on the way down and is taken to the hospital for stitches. As the doctor is sewing up her head, Melinda imagines the doctor possessing the ability to read her thoughts and see her secret. Melinda keeps quiet about that night in order to make the memory go away, but she is beginning to realize that she will need brain surgery to fully remove it.

Heather lands a modeling job at a local department store, earning her major points with the Marthas. Even though they all want to be Heather’s new best friend, it is Melinda she asks to accompany her to her first bathing suit shoot at the mall. Melinda thinks this is because Heather wouldn’t want to be subject to the Marthas’ judgment. Melinda wants to be a model, but she does not want to starve herself like Heather does. As Heather gets into the shoot, the cameraman begins saying, “Sexy, sexy, very cute. Look this way. Sexy, think beach, think boys.” It makes Melinda uncomfortable.

Melinda’s teachers use various methods to interest and engage their students. Mr. Stetman, the algebra teacher, comes to class every day with a real-world application of algebra. Hairwoman assigns essays on fun topics that the students want to write about.

Heather asks Melinda to hang up the posters for the canned food drive. Melinda does not mind. She believes it might improve her reputation if people see her performing a good deed. However, while Melinda is hanging a poster outside of the metal shop, IT walks by and whispers “Freshmeat” in Melinda’s ear. Horrified, Melinda drops the poster and tape and runs.

Melinda’s guidance counselor calls her parents to inform them about Melinda’s continued low grades. Her parents yell at her at dinner, but Melinda does not respond to their questions. They ground her. That night Melinda writes a runaway note, but her mother finds her hiding in her closet. She intentionally scratches her wrist with a paperclip and her mother notices at breakfast the next morning. She tells Melinda that she does not have time for this kind of behavior.

Since winter break, both Heather and Melinda have been sitting on the edge of the Martha table at lunch. One day, Melinda notices something is wrong. All of the Marthas are wearing matching outfits, excluding Heather. Siobhan, one of the senior Marthas, asks why Heather has been putting cans of beets in the collection closet. Real Marthas only give food that they themselves would want to eat. They also think her posters are childish. Melinda is hurt when Heather does not defend her posters. The Marthas are distracted from their rant by the appearance of Andy Evans, who is looking for Emily, another senior Martha. Melinda panics. Andy Evans is IT. The girls joke about Andy Evans, saying that he is rich, hot, dangerous, and sleeps with anything. When Andy reaches the table, he stands behind Melinda to flirt with Emily. He plays with Melinda’s ponytail and Emily glares at her. Melinda leaves and throws up in the bathroom.

Mr. Freeman is in trouble because he failed to keep paperwork after the school board cut his supply budget and he gave out too many A’s during second marking period. He sits angrily and silently during class and no one approaches him. Melinda continues to try to carve a tree into a linoleum block, but she cuts herself. Mr. Freeman takes her chisel, washes it off, and stops in front of his unfinished painting. He slices through it, making the entire class gasp.


Melinda's depression continues to affect her ability to fit into her world, even when it does make places for her. She has her first success in gym class, but is unable to appreciate it, and isn't interested in joining the team, even if she could get her grades up. She does respond to her teacher's request to have her teach the basketball team how to throw foul shots. She is not happy to be kept after class to show off her basketball talent. Melinda would rather be alone, and not the center of attention, and she is not ready to join any groups, as much as she might often dislike her isolation.

Melinda also spends much time in this section discussing her inability to say no. She does not say yes either, but simply does not respond. Her attention to this indicates that it has been a problem for her in the past. Although the reader doesn’t yet know what exactly happened to Melinda, seeing that people take her silence as a yes, instead of a no, shows just how vital it will be for Melinda to find her voice and communicate her desires out loud.

Melinda reacts strongly to the dead frog because she can relate to it. By cutting open the still, helpless creature, Melinda is reminded of a time when she was hurt while lying helpless. Her description of the dirt and leaves, and her subsequent loss of consciousness, serve to further reveal to the reader the story of Melinda's secret.

Melinda reacts negatively to Heather's new swimsuit modeling career, because of its sexual undertones. It "creeps her out" when the photographer tells Heather to be sexy. Melinda cannot help but notice the strange contrast between Heather's pubescent body and the photographer's demands for sexiness. Melinda is frequently quick to identify female objectification around her.

Melinda becomes more depressed and tries to run away and to cut herself, but is unable to take real action in either attempt. She cannot run away because she only knows how to hide. She does not get further than her bedroom closet. She also cannot cut herself because that would be a cry for help, and Melinda does not cry or speak. She calls the scratches on her wrist "whimpers.”

Melinda is finally able to identify IT as Andy Evans. She is only able to do this after he has approached her in a group setting, because it seems less threatening. His relationship with the Marthas pushes Melinda further to the outskirts of the group and the lunch table. The fact that he, who we realize committed some evil against her, is so easily accepted, to the point that even his bad-boy reputation is an asset, stands in stark contrast to Melinda’s unfair exclusion. Andy, like the cheerleaders, stands as a symbol of someone who is publically admired, but is hiding a real darkness that no one sees, whereas Melinda is reviled and outcast although the reader sees how interesting and intelligent she is on the inside.