Speak and the Breadwinner: Coming of Age in Literature

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There comes a time in everyone’s life when they reach the point where they are no longer children, but adults. The transition from a child into a young adult is referred to as “the coming of age,” or simply growing up. Certain children reach this stage through a tragic, painful event, which sometimes can potentially change them and the way they view the world. Other children reach this stage by simply growing up and understanding everything around them. This stage in life is one of the most important in literature. The coming of age theme is found in many pieces of literature, such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak and Deborah Ellis’ The Breadwinner. The main characters in both of these young adult novels experience growth and change in their own ways.

In Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, readers are given a mental picture of who they think Melinda Sordino is. “The bus picks up students in groups of four or five…I close my eyes. This is what I’ve been dreading. As we leave the last stop, I am the only person sitting alone” (3). What the reader gets is this picture of Melinda Sordino predicting that she’s going to have the worst freshman year ever. What I think a lot of readers don’t pick up on right away is that this is the beginning of Melinda’s character developing. Speak is a story truly based on the coming of age theme, and unfortunately Melinda’s character grows as a result of a tragic event.

The summer before freshman year, Melinda was living a normal, good life. She had tons of friends, good grades, and a loving family. Then the best night of her life turned into the worst. “We were on the ground. When did that happen? “No. No I do not like this.” “In my head, my voice is as clear as a bell: NO I DON’T WANT TO!” (…And he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up and zips his jeans, and smiles” (135-136). This traumatic experience would forever change Melinda.

“The novel’s title is Speak, but the silence of the main character predominates” (Smith). Melinda’s inability to speak out about what happened isn’t uncommon in girls her age. “The sadness, anger, and sense of betrayal that girls often feel entering this transitional period in their lives is increased by this shocking and demeaning experience” (Smith). She couldn’t find it in her to tell anyone about what had happened, not even her parents. She just allowed it to take over her. She didn’t care what she looked like when she went to school. She didn’t have any friends because she didn’t have much to say. She came off and depressed, and that’s just what she was. One girl befriended her, only to tell her a few weeks later that they couldn’t be friends anymore; she wasn’t giving her a good image. She was using her for her lack of friends herself. Melinda found herself in art. This was the one place she could express how she was feeling without anybody finding out the truth.

Mr. Freeman, the art teacher at her high school, is the one person who helps her grow. He encourages her to express herself through her art theme: trees. This tree serves as a symbol in the book. All throughout the book Melinda struggles with life, just as she struggles with creating the perfect piece of art through trees. Mr. Freeman sees her pain through what she creates, and only encourages her more to keep going. The trees are symbolic of Melinda’s growth as a person. As she starts to realize that the rape was not her fault, her trees start becoming more real. Towards the end of the book Melinda asks her father to pick her up some flower seeds while he runs to the hardware store. This is one of the first steps towards communication.

Through her whole isolated freshman year, Melinda finally finds the courage to speak out about what happened to her. It took the help of a classmate and an art teacher to help her realize that what happened was not her fault, and that she couldn’t live like that forever. When she shows Mr. Freeman her final tree, it is...
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