After lunch, Melinda enters her art class and she labels it the dream that follows the nightmare. This classroom is filled with windows to attract any sunlight that might appear in Syracuse, a city that is noted for its lack of sunlight. There are paint splotches everywhere and a radio is playing her favorite station. She names her teacher Mr. Freeman, perhaps because, as we will learn, he snubs his nose at the “establishment.” He is angry, because the school board has denied him any supplies for the year. She describes him as ugly, with a big grasshopper body, but he smiles as the students walk into the room and see him working on a pottery wheel. Melinda sees Ivy, one of her friends from the year before, and wills her to look at her, but she won’t.
The first thing Mr. Freeman writes on the board is the word SOUL and tells the class, “This is where you can find your soul, if you dare. Where you can touch that part of you that you never dared look at before.” She thinks that he has to know from their reactions to this that they think he is weird. He also tells them that if they don’t learn art now, they will never learn to breathe.
Mr. Freeman then shows them a huge globe that is missing half a hemisphere and asks them what they think it is. When they are too literal in their answers, he sighs and says, “No imagination.” He tries to make them see the possibilities for creation from an old broken globe, but he knows he will need the entire year to accomplish this. He has each student draw a piece of paper from the globe on which is written the name of a common object. He tells them they will spend the rest of the year turning their object into a piece of art. Melinda chooses a tree and tries to choose a different piece of paper. Mr. Freeman tells her she can’t choose again, because she’s already chosen her destiny. She questions whether he can conduct a class like this, since it sounds like too much fun. They begin with clay and the pottery wheel.
The fact that Melinda has found something to like on this agonizing day is crucial to understanding how she resolves her despair through the year. She has found a teacher who really cares what they learn and sincerely wants them to discover their own destinies. That is why he is Mr. Freeman - he doesn’t allow the rules and the structure of school to make him less than a great instructor. He will be her favorite throughout the story.
There are also some other ideas presented here which reflect Melinda herself: she is excited by the windows as if she would walk the ends of the earth for just a little sunlight in her life; he challenges the class, including Melinda, to find that part of their souls in places inside them which they have never touched before; and Mr. Freeman points out to Melinda that choosing a tree as her object is her destiny. In these three examples, we are prepared for the journey Melinda is going to take to escape her despair. Like the title of the section, art will become a sanctuary, a safe haven, where she can begin to look within herself.
This section begins with Melinda describing Spanish class: the Spanish teacher is determined to spend the entire year speaking only Spanish. Melinda thinks this is both useful and amusing - it makes it much easier to ignore her. The teacher uses playacting to try to get the students to understand what she is saying, but they can’t figure her out. She ends the class by putting a sentence on the board: “Me sorprende que estoy tan cansada hoy.” They look the meaning up in the dictionary, but can only translate it: “To exhaust the day to surprise.”
This teacher seems, at least, to care about her class learning her subject, but they are so unwilling to learn that by the end of the period she writes her frustration in Spanish on the board: “It surprises me that I am so tired today.” For Melinda, this class is just another one where she can find a way to retreat from the world and get away with it.
Celis, Christine. "TheBestNotes on Speak".
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