Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Seed and Tree

The most pervasive symbol in the book is the tree that Melinda chooses as her destiny in art class. It's not just the tree itself that symbolizes Melinda, but also the stages it has to go through in order to thrive. One of the first trees Melinda creates has been hit by lightning and is nearly dead, mirroring her own emotional state at the beginning of the book. A sudden unexpected occurrence has completely changed everything about her. Later in the school year, Melinda is surprised to see the outline of a tree inside an apple along with the apple seeds. They remind her how tiny seeds must destroy themselves to sprout into giant trees. Working with her father on the tree outside her window, Melinda learns that even almost-dead trees can be made healthy again with the right amount of time, support, and care. Like the tree, Melinda needs to prune off the parts of herself she doesn't recognize anymore so she can heal from her trauma and grow into her full potential.


Mirrors symbolize facing things head-on and looking at them honestly without any false appearances. Early in the story, Melinda takes down the mirror in her room because she is unable to face herself. The act represents her avoidance of dealing with what's going on inside of her. Symbolically, she is unable to honestly view what has happened to her as rape. She goes so far in this deliberate evasion as to not use the word until late in the book. Later, she accidentally sees her reflection in a mirror and doesn't recognize herself, exposing how much physical and internal change she has gone through since the attack. In the end, Melinda uses shards of a broken mirror to defend herself against Andy. In this sense, the attack has shattered the way that Melinda wanted to see herself. It is only by taking control of and using the mirror shards to fend off another attack that Melinda able to literally pick up the pieces of her shattered self and take control of her life again. 

The Scarlet Letter

In English class, Melinda and her classmates discuss symbolism in the novel The Scarlet Letter, a novel about a woman who is sent to prison and ostracized by her community for life after having a child as a result of adultery. Meanwhile, the father of the child is never named and goes unpunished. Melinda often comments that she feels like an outcast because of the way her classmates treat her, while the student who is really to blame is popular and well-liked. Hester’s isolation mirrors Melinda’s, as is her need to rebuild her life outside the previously understood bounds of society. During the discussion in English class, Melinda thinks that she could be friends with Hester, suggesting that she sees her own situation symbolized in the story.

The Janitor's Closet

On the first page of Speak, the janitors paint over the old school sign, foreshadowing how Melinda will remodel an old janitor's closet into her own space. Early in the story, Melinda is looking for a place to hide from Mr. Neck when she stumbles upon the old janitor's closet. Burrowing in the closet symbolizes Melinda figuring out all of this inside of herself instead of sharing it with the outside world. At one point, as Melinda notices the years of dust in the room, she mentions that it's stupid to be sitting in this little room. Simultaneously, Melinda is coming out of her shell in real life. She considers reaching out to Rachel and becomes friends with David. At the end of the novel, taking down the art in the closet symbolizes an end to Melinda's need to avoid and isolate.