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Trees as Symbols

Trees as Symbols in Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

In Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Directions for this Lesson:

Today you will be learning about the symbolism Laurie Halse Anderson uses surrounding trees. Some parts of the lesson are presenting new information. Anything you find important, you should take notes on, just as you would off the board. Anything in red italics is a question for the group to discuss.

A word, phrase, or image that has complex meanings. In other words, when a certain object, picture or idea is used in literature to really represent something else, it is a symbol. If you are reading and a certain idea or object keeps reappearing, being described in interesting and complicated ways, there is a good chance it is meant to be looked at on a deeper levelperhaps a symbol of something else! For example: We notice that Laurie Halse Anderson continually brings up trees in Speak, so it becomes our job as the reader to look deeper into why she makes such a big deal about trees. What is she really trying to get us to see?

What is a tree, really?

A tree is a plant that occurs in many different forms. Trees show a variety of formations including different leaf type and shape, bark characteristics, and reproductive organs. Compared with most other plants, trees are long-lived, some reaching several thousand years old and growing to up to 379 ft high.

Melindas Connection to Trees

-Melinda first starts thinking about trees when
She draws TREE out of a globe for her year-long art assignment in Mr. Freemans class.
-At first she is annoyed, thinking, Tree? That is too easy! Anyone can draw a tree." But she soon comes to realize the complexity and beauty that lies within the subject. -As the novel continues, we start to see that Melinda has a deeper connection to trees than just an art assignmentits up to us to find the other Meanings that lie within the text..

The Roots of a Tree and Melinda:

The roots of a tree are embedded in earth, providing an anchor and a way to absorb water and nutrients from the soil. While ground nutrients are essential to a tree's growth, the majority of its growth comes from carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere. The roots systems of trees are intricate and complicated WHAT ARE MELINDAS ROOTS? What embeds and anchors her?

What happens when roots become damaged?

Damaging roots on a tree may cause branches to die.

You cannot have healthy branches if the roots are damaged. Eventually the disease will spread throughout the tree, taking over.
How have Melindas roots been damaged? Once her roots were damaged, what were the consequences that followed? What branches withered and died?

The branch system of a tree

A tree branch is a woody structural piece connected to but not part of the central trunk of a tree. Large branches are known as boughs and small branches are known as twigs.

A bough can also be called a limb or arm.

What are Melindas branches? What people or things does she feel connected to but not a part of?

Pruning 101

Pruning is when branches are cut back. If you do not prune branches, the tree will become overgrown.

If you prune too much, the tree will bear less fruit and leaves, and will not appear beautiful.
Removal of deadwood or diseased limbs will usually result in an ugly plant.
Has Melinda lost so many branches that she is now ugly? Who is responsible for breaking down these branches?

What happens when tree branches are pruned?

Pruning can be harmful to a newly planted trees health.

Pruning branches on trees not yet planted does not help a tree grow better or establish a balance between the roots and the branches.
A newly planted tree needs all the leaves it has to help support the growth of new roots. Pruning trees before they are ready hurts the trees ability to become established. How do you think the events in Melindas life will shape the way she grows and develops in the

Trees + Symbolism = Melinda?

Clearly Laurie Halse Anderson has a plan when she plants the idea of trees in this novel. The tree gradually becomes a symbol in the text that represents Melindas suffering and recovery. Does this symbol make sense to you? Is it a good choice by the author to use a tree to symbolize Melinda?

What happens when trees become sick?

When a tree becomes sick, it must either be cared for, or chopped down. If it is ignored, it will continue to rot until eventually it dies.
Can we say the same for humans? Once someone is mentally sick like Melinda, will they eventually die if they are not cared for? How will Melinda be healed enough to shed her unhealthy bark and dead leaves in order to grow anew?

Interpret a quote
The sun goes behind a cloud and I shiver. I should have worn a sweatshirt. The wind rustles dead leaves still clinging to the oak branches by the street. All I can think of is that the rest of the leaves are going to drop and Ill have to keep on rakingI shouldnt have raked anything. Look what I started. (Melinda, page 167 of Speak)
What is Melinda referring to when she talks about raking up dead leaves? Do you agree with her, should she have never started raking up leaves if it seems theyll just continue falling?

Why a tree as a symbol?

Because of their shape a central trunk with branches like arms and fingers, bark like skin trees lend themselves to identification with the human form. We can compare trees and humans easily in how they look. However, we can also compare the way trees grow and die to the human life as well. What other things in nature could we compare human beings to?

Your Task:
Laurie Halse Anderson chose to use the tree as a symbol for Melinda in Speak. Now you will choose a symbol that you feel represents Melinda. You may draw the symbol if you wish, or you can just journal about it. You will use the remaining time in class to create your symbol and describe it in as much detail as possible.