One cannot not communicate. Of course, communication does require words that are spoken, but there is more to it than that, such as intonation, the speed of your language, breaks, laughter, sighs, your appearance and your body language. According to Paul Watzlawick, any kind of behavior belongs in the category of communication. Since it is not possible to not behave, it is also impossible to not communicate, even without words (Watzlawick, Beavin, Jackson, 50). Needless to say, the spoken word is what most conversations depend on and which represents a major part of communication. However, language is not innocent and has often been used by many people to manipulate or offend someone else. People with a low self-esteem often appear quiet and hardly share their actual opinion. They fear the negative consequences that could occur after saying something critical. Also, they neither believe in themselves, nor that anyone cares about what they say. The issue of a low self-perception forms a major idea of Young Adult Fiction which is the genre that particularly addresses the youth as it copes with subject matters adolescents can relate to. The author of Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson, positions the main character Melinda very clearly towards communication in the beginning of the book with the following statement: “It is easier to not say anything. Shut your trap, button your lip, can it. All that crap you hear on TV about communication and expressing feelings is a lie. Nobody really wants to hear what you have to say.” (Anderson, 13) Not speaking even if you were able to means breaking up with the ability of communication and severing all your contacts. This is how the character Melinda completely isolates herself from her surroundings when she is not speaking which is a consequence to the trauma she suffers after being raped. Anderson makes Melinda avoid most trouble and public embarrassments and puts her into a state of shock. Although Melinda’s inner voice often appears very sarcastic and humorous, she hardly speaks to other people around her. Still, the reader is a witness to the events in Melinda’s everyday high school life and learns a lot about her life only from the images that Anderson is describing in each chapter. Through a reference structure, the author makes sure that the reader constantly perceives Melinda’s wellbeing on different levels when she creates images and atmosphere rather than telling the actual meaning of certain subjects. Anderson shares a very low level of mediation within the book and leaves room for interpretation in the short chapters which appear very similar to a diary or a notebook. Although Melinda remains silent about the rape, Anderson makes sure that the reader always knows about Melinda’s actual condition through subliminal messages in her physical appearance, her body language and her social behavior.
Through the physical appearance of Melinda, Anderson shows many signals that the young girl is not doing well and has bigger problems to deal with than doing her makeup, wearing the hippest clothes or even taking a regular shower. In the beginning of the novel, all of the students at school are categorized into clans, except for Melinda who is said to have the wrong hair and wrong clothes which, as a result, makes her stand out and thus an outcast (Anderson, 8). But with the grey shirts that Melinda prefers (ibid., 86), Anderson clearly ascribes to her a color of clothing that is unremarkable and makes her a plain Jane. The irony is obvious when the reader is made aware that her old clique that has now splintered, was called the Plain Janes. Now as an ‘Outcast’, Melinda disappears in the masses with her basic colorless outfits. Not only are the other students not supposed to be caught with their eyes on her, but Anderson also avoids most chances for Melinda to see herself in a mirror. This is why the mirror in Melinda’s room at home is taken down and the one in her hiding closet is covered by a poster of Maya Angelou, a civil rights activist who had also been raped as a young girl. Anderson constantly makes Melinda see the poster of Maya Angelou and creates a role model for her. As a black woman, Maya Angelou suffered from discriminating comments about her look. Even in her childhood, other children called her ugly and that her skin looked like fecal matter. Melinda also hears negative annotations by fellow students (Angelou, 70). From this, Anderson uses the poster to encourage Melinda to fight back against Andy Evans, her rapist. However, Anderson only gives little opportunities for the reader to arouse associations with Melinda’s look or to get a clear picture of her appearance as the author mostly avoids
Melinda looking at herself and therefore does not need any descriptions for that. Anderson simply wants to erase Melinda’s memories about the party and sexual abuse, and wants her to avoid everything that could remind her of the atrocious act of rape or her miserable state of being. Her terrible look is one thing to avoid. It soon becomes clear that escaping is not the correct course of action and confrontation is necessary to overcome her trauma. Every now and then throughout the first two marking periods, Melinda notices for instance that she should have washed her hair when standing next to the dolled-up Rachel, her ex best friend, at the blackboard during their algebra lesson (Anderson, 42). This shows that she is aware of her miserable look and that she is not putting forth much effort to resolve it. Also, she often forgets to wash her hair and dons old clothes that do not fit anymore. It is the same with her state of mind: she knows, but wants to forget. The fact that Anderson leaves out a basic understanding of hygiene-consciousness moves her focus to the actuality in which the traumatic incident has a major impact on Melinda’s life. The attempt of simply pretending that everything would eventually become normal is doomed to fail and superficialities, in this case, particularly show this to the reader. Evidently, Anderson informs the reader of Melinda’s look when the other students at her school comment on her appearance as well as pick on her. An example of this is during Spanish class, the students learn that ‘Linda’ is the Spanish word for ‘Pretty’ and in the blink of an eye, use it to bully Melinda by calling her ‘Me-No-Linda’ (ibid., 45). Other students were wondering, if there was a disease on her bloody lips that she pretty much constantly bites (ibid., 48). From this, the reader realizes that Melinda not only suffers from the psychological pressure from the rape, but also has to cope with the side effects that come along such as being bullied for her look. Even suicidal themes are presented as a topic when Melinda scratches her wrist until it looks as if she ‘arm-wrestled a rosebush’ (ibid., 48). It is shocking at first, but Anderson cuts off this precarious theme very quickly with the dull reaction of Melinda’s mother who only states how little time she for has this and leaves a book of Tough Love behind. When Anderson finally lets Melinda see herself in the mirror of the changing room while shopping, she decides to change her look with the goal of making herself normal which means to fit in at school and not being an outcast any longer (ibid., 129). This is quite the lowest point that the reader can see of Melinda’s physical appearance. In this situation, we gain a very detailed description from Melinda’s perspective. Anderson shows her dirty face, the dark circles around the eyes, her mouth which is ragged and her lips which are crusted and bleeding. Anderson finally reveals the look of an exhausted and devastated girl and the reader receives a better impression of her. Here, Anderson begins her plan of changing with a new pair of jeans by the end of the third marking period. The following period does not show a clear picture of Melinda’s look, however the reader can recognize single occurrences where Melinda is improving on the surface. An example of this is when she stains her shirt during art class and then puts a lot of effort into cleaning it in the washroom. On top of that, Melinda even desires a shower after observing Andy Evans and Rachel in the short chapter “My Life as a Spy” and stops off at her closet. This is also the moment when Anderson creates a new impression of the closet as she describes the foul smell and calls it ‘Stupid room’ (ibid., 152). The progress becomes more and more positive, and slowly, Melinda improves. She increasingly cares about her own look, and eventually, she even ceases to feel exhausted (ibid., 190). There are still wounds to heal and even when it is discovered that Andy had raped Melinda, the process of recovery was not over. Anderson does not show Melinda’s look in the end, however the last wound on her hand is stitched up after her struggle against Andy. The healing finally continues without any relapse.
In Melinda’s body language, Anderson provides many hints about her state of being and shows how she attempts to escape and avoid her surroundings. Any time that Melinda is thrown into a situation where she feels pressured because of the people who are around her or things that remind her of the rape, she reacts to that with her body language. Sometimes this happens on purpose, but also very often unconsciously. The reader already notices from the protagonist’s behavior that something is wrong but does not discover the reason, the rape, until much later. On the first day of school after summer break,
- Quote paper
- Anna Dierks (Author), 2017, The Nonverbal Communication of Melinda in Laurie Halse Anderson's "Speak", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/378277