Trees as Symbols…
Trees as Symbols in Speak by
Laurie Halse Anderson
Laurie Halse Anderson
Directions for this Lesson:
• Today you will be
learning about the
symbolism Laurie Halse
• Some parts of the lesson
are presenting new
you find important, you
should take notes on, just
as you would off the
• Anything in red italics is a
question for the group to
WHAT IS A SYMBOL?
• 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 level…perhaps 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
different leaf type
and shape, bark
• Compared with most other
plants, trees are long-lived,
some reaching several thousand
years old and growing to up to
379 ft high.
Melinda’s 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. Freeman’s 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 assignment…it’s up
to us to find the other
Meanings that lie within the text………………..
The Roots of a Tree and
Melinda: of a tree are
• The roots
embedded in earth, providing
an anchor and a way to absorb
water and nutrients from the
• 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 MELINDA’S
• What “embeds and anchors
What happens when “roots”
• 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 Melinda’s “roots”
• 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
• What are Melinda’s
• What people or things does
she feel connected to but not a
• Pruning is when branches are cut
• 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
• Removal of deadwood or diseased
limbs will usually result in an ugly
• 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 tree’s 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 tree’s
ability to become established.
• How do you think the events in
Melinda’s 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 Melinda’s 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
• When a tree becomes sick, it
must either be cared for, or
• If it is ignored, it
will continue to rot
until eventually it
• 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 I’ll have to keep on
raking…I shouldn’t 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 they’ll 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
• 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
• Laurie Halse Anderson
chose to use the tree as a
symbol for Melinda in
• Now you will choose a
symbol that you feel
• 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