“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”-Martin Luther King. This quote means that if you don’t speak about the problems you have, along with the problem of those around you, you will slowly begin to die. This quote is valid with the book to Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, as Melinda’s main character slowly begins to “die” inside. The fact that she didn’t speak up about her problems clearly leads to a lack of caring for her physical appearance, anti-social behavior, and many other factors of her deepening depression. But she steadily began to speak, and once she did, she began to escape the repercussions of her silence and was “reborn.”
Melinda’s silence began her spiral of depression, resulting in a lack of care for her appearance, anti-social behavior, and an attempt to avoid rejection altogether. Melinda’s silence resulted from the fact that she was attacked at Kyle Rodger’s senior cheerleader party. She became drunk and was then raped by Andy Evans, and as a result, called the cops to the party. Students were arrested at this party, leading students (many of which she doesn’t know) to hate her. She clearly suffers psychological trauma from this event, as displayed in her science class while dissecting frogs: “My throat closes off. It is hard to breathe. I put out my hand to steady myself against the table. David pins her froggy hands to the dissection tray. He spreads her froggy legs and pins her froggy feet. She doesn’t say a word. She is already dead.
A scream starts in my gut- I can feel the cut, smell the dirt, leaves in my hair.” Dissecting the frog makes her flashback to the night she was attacked, bringing back the horrible memories and causing her to faint. On top of this, her fractured family life provides no outlet to talk about her problems. Her mom is a workaholic, much more worried about her job than her family. Her dad attempts to fix problems but can’t, and most of the time only makes them worse. This low-income family dynamic also influences her silence as she cannot even speak to her parents about her problems. While in school, she cuts many of her classes to spend time in an abandoned janitor’s closet. While inside, she cleans and refurbishes the room and covers the mirror in the closet with a poster.
The covering of the mirror is symbolic as it shows that she dislikes herself so much that she has trouble even looking at herself. The janitor’s closet itself represents herself with her depression and solitude. Another incident was when the school’s basketball team had won its first game, and David Petrakis, her lab partner, decided to throw a party to celebrate the victory. David invites her, but she declines and claims she has “homework, strict parents, tuba practice,” and other ridiculous excuses. While this is one of the few real chances she gets to be social, she declines it and returns to her solitude because of what happened at Kyle Rodger’s party. Melinda’s feelings and the events that occur because of show that she needs to speak up about the attack and of her problems so she stops “dying” and can finally be “reborn.”
One of the motivating factors that encouraged her to speak was art class and her art teacher, Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman gives her excellent advice: “When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” This quote is very similar to the one by Martin Luther King, and it makes her think about her problems, causing her to want to change. She first begins to express herself in her artwork, constructing works that symbolize her pain, such as turkey art. This is a combination of the turkey bones from her family’s failed Thanksgiving, forks and knives, a half-melted palm tree, and the head of a Barbie doll. Next, she slowly begins to talk to another student in the art class named Ivy and to her lab partner David, whom she admires. She also begins to care about her appearance, finally noticing herself and taking steps to fix her tarnished physical appearance. She starts by getting “jeans that fit,” “staying away from the closet,” and “going to all her classes.” From that point, she made it a goal to “make herself normal”.
Another reason for speaking was that Rachel, her ex-best friend, began to go out with Andy Evans, her attacker. Melinda still cared about Rachel, even though they hadn’t talked for the entire year. Although Rachel did not heed Melinda’s warning about Andy, it was an important breakthrough for Melinda as it was the first time she told anyone about her attack. Andy somehow hears of this and again attacks Melinda, but this time while in her closet. During the attack, the poster covering the mirror falls, and the mirror shatters. She screams and uses a broken shard of the mirror to defend herself until the lacrosse team arrives.
This event ultimately symbolizes her “rebirth,” as the reappearance of the mirror symbolizes the newfound caring for her physical appearance and a great increase in her self-esteem. The fact that she screamed during the attack represents the fact that she will finally speak about her problems, and therefore will be reborn. The quote by Martin Luther King unquestionably relates to Melinda; when she stopped speaking she clearly began to “die,” and when she spoke again, she was “reborn.” Her problems progressively worsened, but when she spoke up about the attack, all of her problems changed. It is clear that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”