ALAN v28n1 - Out of Silence into Speech: Two Perspectives of Growing up Female

Volume 28, Number 1
Fall 2000

Out of Silence into Speech: Two Perspectives of Growing up Female

Carla L. Verderame

The Female Protagonists of Speak and The Member of the Wedding

Wanting to pair contemporary and classic young adult texts for my young adult literature class-a method that I take from Joan Kaywell's remarkable series: Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics - I perused my university library for new acquisitions. Among my selection of compelling titles was Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak , a powerful coming-of-age story about Melinda Sordino, a rape victim whose inability to speak after rape forces her to sort out the violent event, alone and without words, to verify what she endured. In her autobiographical novel, l Know Why the Caged Bird Sings , Maya Angelou, a victim of rape at the tender age of eight, explains her response to the harrowing physical violation of her young body and to the confusing legal events that followed: "I had to stop talking" ( 73 ). Like Angelou, Anderson's main character, Melinda, retreats from speech into silence, muting the once creative and spirited voice that Andy Evans, Melinda's attacker, first savagely silenced at an end-of-summer party.

The reader cannot neglect Melinda's strength and courage to confront, on a daily basis, classmates who keep their distance, and "IT" -Melinda's reference to Andy-who attends school with ease and without regard to the pain Melinda suffered at his hand. The memory of the rape has a significant impact on Melinda's life in ninth grade. Finding it difficult to focus on schoolwork, Melinda has trouble completing assignments, and routinely skips class. Yet Melinda feels some comfort in an abandoned janitor's closet which she decides to refurbish:

The first thing to go is the mirror. It is screwed to the wall, so I cover it with a poster of Maya Angelou that the librarian gave me […] Maya Angelou's picture watches me while I sweep and mop the floor, while I scrub the shelves, while I chase spiders out of corners. I do a little bit of work every day. It's like building a fort. I figure Maya would like it if I read in here, so I bring a few books from home. Mostly I watch the scary movies playing on the inside of my eyelids. ( 50 )

Cleaning out and renovating the closet occupies Melinda for a while. The physical labor does her body some good, while she takes emotional comfort in establishing a place of refuge away from her teachers, parents, and hurtful adolescent peers. As we know from Angelou's autobiography, that the renowned author shares Melinda's aphasiac response to trauma. Therefore, it is not insignificant that Melinda hangs Angelou's picture over the mirror. Later, in the discussion of The Member of the Wedding , we will encounter other mirrors that hang prominently and threaten an adolescent girl's ability to look squarely at herself and to like what she sees. Although she is unable to speak and unable to ask for help throughout most of the novel, a defiant Melinda Sordino does, in the end, victoriously confront her rapist. Unexpectedly locked together in the closet that provides her sanctuary, Melinda finds a strong, powerful voice that subdues Andy Evans' second attempt at assault. Melinda's scream explodes through the hallways, bringing with it help and a closure of sorts to the "scary movies" ( 50 ) playing inside her head. While the memory of rape lives on, Melinda's triumphant showdown with Andy restores her sense of self as well as her voice.

I choose to pair this moving portrait of a young girl's physical and emotional struggles as she comes of age with that of another adolescent girl who confronts similar problems, and who finds herself the victim of an attempted rape. Although at first glance, Melinda Sordino's and Frankie Addams' lives seem worlds apart-they live in different parts of the country, they come of age at different times, and Frankie conforms to her environment in ways that Melinda does not-both girls learn to write their own stories, to assert their own voice. Both also learn to establish their own positions in a patriarchal world. As I weave the discussion of Speak into my main discussion of The Member of the Wedding , I demonstrate not only the parallels between the stories, but also the distinctions between them to reinforce their individual richness, and to assist teachers who may choose to pair these selections.

On rereading Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding I recall my first encounter with the book in high school. As a young adult, I read the novel as a realistic portrait about he difficulties of growing up. For me, McCullers' character, rankle Addams, depicted authentic adolescent feelings of isolation and fear as she grew in a small southern town without many friends. Now, years later, I recognize McCullers' artistry in balancing a seemingly innocent story about a confused school girl with a disturbing subtext of the terrors of a Displaced young woman who sacrifices the most interesting aspects of her characterher sensitivity and imagination-to live amicably among white Southerners. Frances, the formal name she acquires by the end of the novel, represses her transgressive childhood behavior because she confronts impenetrable boundaries when she attempts to assert herself in the traditionally racist and patriarchal Southern world. Frankie, in all her personae, rejects social conventions. But her story exposes the barriers that impede women when they challenge tradition.

Why does Frankie sacrifice her sensitivity, imagination, and intellect in favor of a lifestyle that she once scoffed? First, I will argue that Frances' painful decision at the end of the novel to accept old Southern values offers her community with others that she lacked during adolescence. Second, as I retrace Frankie's adventures at home, through town, and back again, I will establish that the Southern plot limits Frankie's notion "to light out of town." Third, I will demonstrate that Frankie's adolescence is a trauma that urges her back into the safety of her home, particularly the kitchen, an historically feminine space, in which the awkward Frankie transforms into a traditional Southern belle: Frances. Overall, I will insist that Frankie abandons her wit to fit a rigid Southern code in which women function as objects to be adorned and adored. An illustration of the Southern belle as the central figure in the Southern landscape begins our analysis of Frankie's quest for a place to belong and her eventual transformation.

The Southern Belle

In Tomorrow is Another Day , Anne Jones describes the prominent symbol of the southern lady, that which Frances becomes: "[T]he southern lady is at the core of a region's selfdefinition; the identity of the South is contingent in part upon the persistence of its tradition of the lady" ( 4 ). "Constantly chaperoned, economically dependent, denied development" ( 22 ), Jones explains the ornamental function of women in the South. Although Jones describes Southern women of an earlier time than McCullers, her claims remain true for women in McCullers' South. For Frances Addams, the Southern way of life means an end to staring at the freaks in the Freak Pavilion at the fair and an end to bludgeoning red-headed soldiers at the Blue Moon Cafe in town. Southern belles study books of art and poetry; they discuss Michelangelo and Tennyson. While Frances' life will not rival Frankie's adventures, never again will Frances be "a member of nothing in the world" ( 1 ) because a Southern lady's life provides membership to a group. The coterie of Southern women that Frances joins is an established one that guarantees her clout, comfort, and company.

But the South that offers membership is the same South that limits women's opportunities and denies them a sense of autonomy. Jones writes: "Most likely identifying herself strongly as a Southerner, [the Southern woman's] sympathies would be entirely on the side of the Confederacy or the Lost Cause, yet she would become, as `Confederate Woman,' a symbol in place of a self" ( 24 ). Frances chooses the lifestyle of a Southern idol rather than acting out her more interesting, unconventional adolescent tendencies. By the end of the novel, Frances anticipates a move to a new house with clean walls that offers comfortable space to receive guests, and shelters her from the confusion and loneliness that plagued her adolescence.

Frances' new life will not accommodate her steadfast companions, Berenice Sadie Brown and John Henry West. Berenice-the Addams' one-eyed, African American cook and Frankie's only maternal figure-represents the South's history of racial oppression. John Henry West is the six-year old impish cousin who tags alongside Frankie all summer, and whose sexually ambivalent character gives rise to Frankie's own confused sexual feelings. Later, in a discussion about Frankie's life at home, I will claim that Berenice and John Henry represent grotesque figures who soil the pristine Southern landscape and whose retreat from Frances' life at the end of the novel verifies her maturation into a traditional Southern girl. The South that McCullers portrays forces her to remove the deviants, Berenice and John Henry, from Frankie's world; conformity triumphs ( Westling 131 ). Frances' new friend, the aptly named Mary Littlejohn, personifies the Southern lady that Jones describes and escorts the Southern story into Frances' life. The Southern story requires that Frances befriend a compliant young woman who personifies the South and its values, rather than a duo who represents its history of atrocities. Mary introduces Frances to a world that dismisses the oppression and chaos that Frances' housekeeper and cousin represent. But Frances meets Mary after her thirteenth birthday, well past "that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old" ( 1 ). Frankie's experiences during that summer reveal the traumatic period that defines her early adolescence and invites a life of conformity.

When we meet Frankie she is "twelve and five-sixths years old. She [is] five feet five and three quarter inches tall, and she [wears] a number seven shoe. […] Already the hateful little summer children holler to her: "Is it cold up there?' And the comments of grown people make Frankie shrivel on her heels" ( 16 ). Discouraged about her developing feminine body and confused about its place in Southern society, Frankie exhibits stereotypically male behavior and embraces traditionally male activities. "She is a girl unwilling to relinquish the privileges of boys, which growing up female would require her to do. Frankie resists adult sexuality, resists sexual initiation, and resists it actively both physically and mentally" ( James 111 ). Frankie is tall, dons a crew cut, and wears blue track shorts and a B.VD. under vest. She cuts the rough dead skin off the bottom of her feet with a large kitchen knife, and imagines herself a soldier fighting in World War II. Clearly, Frankie Addams is no Mary Littlejohn; she sharply contrasts the stereotype of a genteel Southern belle.

Even the Southern climate contributes to Frankie's disconcerted sense of self. "In June the trees were bright dizzy green, but later the leaves darkened, and the town turned black and shrunken under the glare of the sun. The sidewalks of the town were gray in the early morning and at night, but the noon sun put a glaze on them, so that the cement burned and glittered like glass" ( 1 ). Disarray and incongruity dominate the landscape, from the leaves losing their color in the summertime to the town turning black from the sun. Heat chokes the town; fear chokes Frankie. Heat and cold function as significant polarities in the novel. Frankie yearns to escape the oppressive heat that defines her conflicted youth. She envies Berenice and John Henry, who have traveled north and have seen snow. In the creative shows that she writes, Frankie excludes summer, focusing, instead, on the adventures of explorers who navigate treacherous frozen terrain in cold, northern climes. Most significantly, her brother Jarvis' wedding, the one event that promises to bring Frankie membership, takes place in aptly named Winter Hill. However, too immature to realize, it is during this stifling summer that Frankie demonstrates her most enthusiasm for and curiosity about life.

The bitter winter of Syracuse, New York, functions for Melinda Sordino the way that the suffocating Georgia summer functions for Frankie Addams. That is, Melinda longs to flee the long, severe winter of upstate New York. "I hate winter. I've lived in Syracuse my whole life and I hate winter. It starts too early and ends too late. No one likes it. Why does anyone stay here?" ( 136 ). Although the time sequence in Speak centers on the four marking periods of a secondary school year, the seasons impact on Melinda just as they do on Frankie. Melinda is raped in August right before the beginning of school. Contrary to the popular impression of adolescents frolicking during summer vacation, both girls experience the months between academic years as ominous and foreboding. Hating the winter and betrayed by summer, Melinda lives in her head throughout the four seasons of ninth grade. As we know, however, Melinda's story ends on a hopeful note. After having overcome Andy, "words float up" ( 198 ) in Melinda's throat and she is able to begin telling her story to her art teacher, Mr. Freeman.

Frankie and Melinda as Outcasts

By the end of The Member of the Wedding , we understand that Frances enjoys the protection and camaraderie of a new friendship; she waits to join Mary on a crisp November afternoon. Late fall is the season that will offer Frances community and comfort. But the preceding summer Frankie is alone, afraid, and acutely aware that she does not fit in. Louise Westling suggests that, "McCullers emphasizes the element of fear so rhythmically that the novel's opening pages swim in a fevered, hallucinatory atmosphere" ( 127 ). Upon opening the text, the reader feels Frankie's urgency.

This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. Frankie had become an unjoined person who hung around in doorways, and she was afraid. […] She was in so much secret trouble that she thought it was better to stay at homeand at home there was only Berenice Sadie Brown and John Henry West. ( 1 )

The opening chapters of Speak portray Melinda as similarly outcast. In fact, when the ninth grade students of Merryweather High School "are herded into the auditorium" ( 4 ), Melinda sits alone, taunted and laughed at by cruel classmates. Further, like Frankie, Melinda also finds herself in "secret trouble." Because she cannot bring herself to confide in anyone about the rape, she struggles on her own to make sense out of the violation that she endured at the party, and that which she continues to endure daily at school. Sadly, Melinda's life at home, like her life at school, offers no support. Melinda doesn't feel able to speak to her parents with any more ease than with the authorities at school. "My family has a good system. We communicate with notes on the kitchen counter. I write when I need school supplies or a ride to the mall. They write what time they'll be home from work and if I should thaw anything. What else is there to say?" ( 14 ). While both Melinda and Frankie return home out of necessity, home promises little for either young girl. Yet, interestingly, Frankie's home functions as a complicated symbol in her story.

Being Home

In "Feminist Politics: What's Home Got To Do With It?" Biddy Martin and Chandra Mohanty discuss the home, and what the idea of being at home means. "Being home' refers to the place where one lives within familiar, safe, protected boundaries; `not being home' is a matter of realizing that home was an illusion of coherence and safety based on the exclusion of specific histories of oppression and resistance, the repression of differences even within oneself" ( 196 ). By the end of the novel, Frances will choose `being home' in a new house with no history; she will shed her inclusive politics and transgressive way of life. Now, however, Frankie suffers in a claustrophobic house that ultimately causes her both to roam the streets, and to shed her adventurous lifestyle in favor of Mary Littlejohn's ( Westling 181 ). The Addams' cluttered house contributes to Frankie's feelings of displacement and of `not being home.'

For example, the clock in the kitchen ticks loudly and moves slowly. The suspended time coupled with the summer heat creates an environment from which Frankie wants desperately to escape. Like the mirror that Melinda covered in her private closet at school, the "watery kitchen mirror hanging above the sink" ( 2 ) in the Addams' house underscores Frankie's concern about her image. It emphasizes adolescent struggles about self-reflection by reminding us that Frankie strives to sort out the person she wants to be. Mirrors hang conspicuously in the Blue Moon Cafe and in Big Mama's living room, two settings into which Frankie will drift when she wanders through town. But at the end of the story, Frances will decide on a persona that submits to strict standards of femininity which will prevent her patronage at establishments such as the Blue Moon Cafe. Further, Frances' new persona will endorse segregation so that she will never again visit Big Mama's living room. Frances' new way of life will openly deny her friendship with African Americans and severely restrict her movement and activities in town.

The most interesting symbol in the Addams' cramped house, however, is the radio that plays in the dining room. The confused variety of speakers echoes the confused cacophony of voices that flood Frankie's mind as she considers the type of woman she will become. "The radio in the dining room was playing a mixture of many stations: a war voice crossed with the gabble of an advertiser, and underneath there was the sleazy music of a sweet band … Music and voices came and went and crossed and twisted with each other, and by August they did not listen any more" ( 8 ). While the Addams' house-with all of its troubling accessories-drives Frankie away, she circles back there to greet a lifestyle rooted deeply in tradition, and one that members of her household share. Just as the Addams dismiss the mixture of voices on the radio, Frances will dismiss Frankie's insight and concentrate on more superficial interests with Mary Littlejohn. She will retreat home to the safe, protected setting that Martin and Mohanty describe and deplore.

The kitchen dominates as the room in which Berenice, John Henry, and Frankie repeat the rituals of their summer lives. The domestic setting serves an important purpose in the novel as it simultaneously threatens and consoles Frankie. "The kitchen is the world of adolescence, of being trapped in the middle space; the outside world is the world of adults" ( James 116 ). Frankie claims that the kitchen depresses her. But, like Melinda's closet, Frankie seeks it as a refuge when she gets frightened on the streets of town. A curious paradox surrounds the setting of the room; it offers safety but threatens sadness. Frankie admits that she cannot name what happens to her, but the kitchen consistently feels ominous. In fact, it terrifies her:

They sat together in the kitchen, and the kitchen was a sad and ugly room. John Henry had covered the walls with queer, child drawings as far up as his arm would reach. This gave the kitchen a crazy look, like that of a room in the crazy house. And now the old kitchen made Frankie sick. The name for what happened to her Frankie did not know, but she could feel her squeezed heart beating against the table edge. ( 4 )

The cluttered room mimics Frankie's cluttered mind. The pictures on the wall reinforce Frankie's confusion. "The walls of the kitchen bothered Frankie-the queer drawings of Christmas trees, airplanes, freak soldiers, flowers" ( 7 ). John Henry's pictures of the freak soldiers on the kitchen walls allow Frankie to imagine herself acting out a very different script from the one assigned to her by Southern society. But the pictures also frighten Frankie because her burgeoning femininity confuses her; she worries that she is a freak like the freak soldiers in John Henry's pictures or those at the fair in town. John Henry's juxtaposition of images of war with images of Christmas trees and flowers, the serene landscape of the old South, reinforces the layering effect that the setting of the kitchen takes on. That is, the beauty and serenity of the Southern landscape camouflages the region's history of racial and gender oppression.

In Sacred Groves and Ravaged Gardens , Louise Westling clarifies Frankie's journey toward adulthood through the crazily decorated maze of the Addams' house-especially the kitchen:

Most of The Member of the Wedding occurs in the hot, stale kitchen where Berenice guides tomboy Frankie through her transformation into giddy adolescent Frances. The walls are covered with John Henry's grotesque drawings […]. The same conversations and the same card games are playing maddeningly over and over by the three inhabitants of Frankie's domestic world so that the time passes like a sick dream. This world is a living freak show peopled by a transvestite boy, a black cook with a left eye of bright blue glass, and a gangling tomboy. It is a horrifying prison for Frankie, who moves into a completely new house at the end of the novel, leaving her freakish past behind. Such an escape maybe possible because she submits to conventional demands for femininity. ( 181 )

Westling wrestles with two significant issues here. First, she addresses Frankie's entrapment. Westling insists that McCullers' protagonist is ultimately defeated, stuck in a household without acknowledgment of her intelligence or artistic nature ( 6 ). Frankie submits to the imprisonment of her home just as she will submit to the gender conventions of society. Hence, the Addams' house functions as a microcosm of southern life.

Second, Westling raises the issue of the use of the grotesque in the novel, suggesting that Berenice, John Henry, and even Frankie herself form a trio of grotesques. Their bodies rival the intact, classical bodies of Mary Littlejohn and Mary's mother. In The Politics and Poetics of Transgression , Peter Stallybrass and Allon White suggest that the grotesque "designates the marginal, the low and the outside from the perspective of a classical body situated as high, inside and central by virtue of its very exclusions" ( 23 ). Berenice's excluded, dark, one-eyed body takes on a significant presence in the text as it evokes the history of racial oppression in the South. It rivals the white, `classical' body of the Littlejohn women. John Henry's dwarfism parallels the Pin Head at the fair, calling up questions about transvestitism and sexual deviance. Frankie's big, awkward adolescent body clearly fits into the grotesque category as well. "[The grotesque body] is always in process, it is always becoming, it is a mobile and hybrid creature, disproportionate, exorbitant, outgrowing all limits […]" ( 9, original italics ). Frankie's big, clumsy, conflicted self that journeys about town to sort out who she is exists in a state of `becoming' just as Stallybrass and White describe.

The marginalized figures in the home, Berenice, John Henry, and Frankie are friends; they share a world vision. "The world of Berenice was a round world, and the old Frankie would listen to the strong deep singing voice, and she would agree with Berenice" ( 92 ). The old Frankie shows sensitivity to the perils that African Americans continue to face in the segregated South. But, as Frances emerges, the young woman's politics change; by joining the likes of Mary Littlejohn, Frances embraces a belief system that dismisses the injustice of African Americans. The metamorphosed Frances represses her awareness of prejudice; she disregards the sustained racism around her, and sacrifices her inclusive politics to live comfortably in her new community. In a disappointing turn of events, Frances openly and viciously rejects Berenice.

Berenice Sadie Brown figures prominently in the "living freak show" that Westling describes as Frankie's world. She often consoles Frankie and acts as the maternal influence that Frankie lacks. But Berenice will drift away from Frances when the Addams move to their new house. "[F]or when it had been decided that she and her father would share with Aunt Pet and Uncle Ustace a house out in the new suburb of town, Berenice had given quit notice and said that she might as well marry T. T." ( 149 ). We know that the transformed Frances will reject the possibility of closeness to an African American housekeeper for any reason other than to delegate labor.

If Berenice highlights Frances' ambivalence about racism, John Henry highlights her ambivalence about sexuality. John Henry's role in the story is a highly complicated one, but he may be easily overlooked if the text is read as merely a coming of age novel. On the surface, the dwarfish boy tags behind his awkward older cousin as the two search for excitement during the hot Southern summer. But, on a deeper level, John Henry functions as an androgynous playmate who threatens Frankie's development. He personifies confusion about sexual roles and gender boundaries. When the three companions in the kitchen discuss the way the world should be, John Henry's utopia collapses male and female roles into one. "And then John Henry West would very likely add his two cents' worth about this time and think that people ought to be half boy and half girl, and when the old Frankie threatened to take him to the Fair and sell him to the Freak Pavilion, he would only close his eyes and smile" ( 92 ). The Freak show amuses the boy; he imitates the Pin Head and expresses his fondness for the entire exhibit to Frankie. But the show frightens Frankie. "She was afraid of all the Freaks, for it seemed to her that they had looked at her in a secret way and tried to connect their eyes with hers, as though to say: we know you" ( 18 ). Frankie believes that she is a freak. But the South that shapes Frankie into Frances dispels that notion. John Henry's small frame shrinks away from Frankie in death in order for the new Frances to accept life without distractions or doubts about sexuality.

Symbols of death and foreboding surround John Henry early in the story. Gnats settle in his eyes and flies swarm over his food. Moths linger at the window screen in Frankie's room when he sleeps there. But the moths transform into beautiful butterflies and gray skies clear after the child dies, enabling Frances to greet her new life unencumbered by John Henry's violations of appropriate behavior. Just as Frankie transforms into Frances, John Henry's meningitis transforms him into one of the grotesques in the Freak Pavilion until, after three days, he dies. "John Henry had been screaming for three days and his eye-balls were walled up in a corner stuck and blind. He lay there finally with his head drawn back in a buckled way, and he had lost the strength to scream. He died Tuesday after the Fair was gone, a golden morning of the most butterflies, the clearest sky" ( 152 ). When John Henry finally dies, the terror from the Freak Pavilion that haunted Frankie subsides. Mary Littlejohn replaces John Henry West; she represents a socially acceptable friend for Frances rather than the little boy who liked to try on women's clothing and high-heeled shoes.

If the characters in the kitchen smother Frankie, the streets appear to free her. In an attempt to escape the confusion at home, Frankie roams the streets of town to witness activity and to reconstruct a definition of herself. The knowledge of Janice and Jarvis' upcoming wedding serves as Frankie's armor as she travels to new territories, tests new situations, and becomes F. Jasmine. As F. Jasmine, she glides through town telling the story of her brother's forthcoming wedding. The young woman enjoys her walks and feels, for the first time, a connection to those around her. "Under the fresh blue early sky the feeling as she walked along was one of newly risen lightness, power, entitlement" ( 50 ). As F. Jasmine walks, the shopkeeper, the woman who sweeps her porch, and others form an audience as the young woman gushes about her membership in the wedding. "It is far easier, it came to her as she remembered Berenice, to convince strangers of the coming to pass of dearest wants than those in your own home kitchen" ( 54 ). F. Jasmine implies that her friendship with Berenice begins to unravel. Gradually, E Jasmine separates from the Addams' household, and from the persona of tomboy Frankie. The inexperienced young woman interprets her street audience's silence as approval of her, and as verification of her membership in their community. But the attempted rape by the red-headed soldier at the Blue Moon Cafe justifiably shakes F. Jasmine's new found confidence, resurrects her confusion about sexuality, and sends her back home.

She could not push away, but she bit down with all her might upon what must have been the crazy soldier's tongue - so that he screamed out and she was free. Then he was coming toward her with an amazed pained face, and her hand reached the glass pitcher and brought it down upon his head. [ …] He lay there still, with the amazed expression on his freckled face that was now pale, and a froth of blood showed on his mouth. But his head was not broken or even cracked, and whether he was dead or not she did not know. ( 130 )

E. Jasmine's courageous effort to free herself from her claustrophobic house leads only to attempted rape and a return to the same house from which she desperately tried to flee. E. Jasmine's defeat in town poses two significant questions: What kinds of stories do women get to have? What happens to women with imagination? Shaken, F. Jasmine circles back to the conflicted setting of her home kitchen.

Like E Jasmine, Melinda wanders through her town as a method of escape as well. She decides on the shopping mall as a suitable refuge where she can avoid the unexpected, terrifying encounters with Andy Evans that she experiences at school.

I'm hanging a poster outside the metal-shop room when IT creeps up. Little flecks of metal slice through my veins. IT whispers to me, 'Freshmeat.' That's what IT whispers. IT found me again. I thought I could ignore IT. There are four hundred other freshmen in here, two hundred female. Plus all the other grades. But he whispers to me.

I can smell him over the noise of the metal shop and I drop my poster and the masking tape and I want to throw up and I can smell him and I run and he remembers me and he knows. He whispers in my ear. ( 86 )

The horrifying encounter in the hallway reinforces that Melinda knows her stalker; she can sniff him out. Despite the din of heavy machinery and the racket of metal hitting metal, Melinda is keenly aware that Andy pursues her. She "can smell him over the noise of the metal shop" ( 86, emphasis added ). Melinda's senses blur in Andy's presence. That is, her sense of hearing and of smell cross, and she draws on instinct rather than logic to identify him. Andy's arrogance reveals itself in lewd whispers, smug smiles, and provocative winks that continue to violate Melinda. Melinda's agony at school parallels Frankie's agony in town.

The patriarchal authority which pervades Frankie's small town pervades Merryweather High School too. "I see IT in the hallway. IT goes to Merryweather. IT is walking with Aubrey Cheerleader. IT is my nightmare and I can't wake up. IT sees me. IT smiles and winks. Good thing my lips are stitched together or I'd throw up" ( 45-6 ). Because Andy's rape of Melinda silenced her to the point that she cannot ask for help, the rebuilding of her life cannot take place. While Andy is free to strut through school and assert his sexual power, Melinda is defenseless and displaced. Further, Andy enjoys the freedom to consider his future while Melinda is confined to struggling with her past. That is, Andy enjoys all the rites and privileges that high school offers while Melinda wrestles alone with the memory of being raped. But, like Frankie's initial feeling of freedom as she walks the streets of her town, Melinda's trip to the mall brings her closer to asserting her authority, signaling that her healing process can begin. "I should probably tell someone, just tell someone. Get it over with. Let it out. Blurt it out" (99) . By the end of the novel, Melinda will exchange silence for speech; she will stand up bravely to her attacker.

Yet, the courage Melinda finds to confront Andy does not come easily. Immediately after considering to confide in someone about the rape, Melinda reveals another secret wish. "I want to be in fifth grade again. Now, that is a deep dark secret, almost as big as the other one. Fifth grade was easy - old enough to play outside without Mom, too young to go off the block. The perfect leash length" ( 99 ). While Melinda desires the freedom that adulthood affords, she wishes, also, for the protection of childhood. She is caught in the world between adolescence and adulthood, that middle space which Judith James claims is a trap for F. Jasmine as well ( 116 ). But, despite her confusion, Melinda returns home feeling empowered from the productive trip to town. She will speak.

E. Jasmine's return from town finds her agitated and shaken after having had to defend herself against the red-headed soldier. F Jasmine's anxiety increases when her long awaited trip to Winter Hill curiously takes her deeper into the Southern story. "They were supposed to be traveling north, but it seemed to her rather that the bus was going south instead. The sky turned burning pale and the day blazed.[ … ] And mile by mile the countryside became more southern" ( 134 ). Feelings of defeat dominate F. Jasmine's story now that she learns Janice and Jarvis have no place for her. Unable to strike out on her own, and rejected by her brother and sister-in-law, she rides the bus back to town with her family and Berenice, "and now direction made no difference to her; she did not care" ( 136 ). Still lacking a group, still not a member, the personae of Frankie and F. Jasmine finally collapse into Frances. "She was sitting next to Berenice, back with the colored people, and when she thought of it she used the mean word she had never used before, nigger-for now she hated everyone and wanted only to spite and shame" ( 135 ). Frances' unforgivable, vicious remark verifies the striking change in her character. The young girl who once shared Berenice's view of the world now turns against her. Frances insulates herself from her previous status as Other by rejecting her youthful idealism and attacking Berenice. "They thought it was finished, but she would show them. The wedding had not included her, but she would still go into the world" ( 140 ). Angry that Janice and Jarvis would not accept her, she becomes fiercely determined to venture into a world bigger than the wedding, the Addams' house, or her Southern town.

But Frances' foiled final attempt at escape marks her transformation into a young Southern woman. The failed effort to leave town for good verifies the restrictions Southern society imposes on women. Frances complies with the men who call her father and take her home; she abides by their traditional system. Despite her quick wit and sharp mind, Frances lacks the skills to run away. "All at once, alone there in the night empty street, she realized that she did not know how. It is easy to talk about hopping a freight train, but how did bums and people really do it?" ( 143 ). Frances entertained the romantic notion of forging into the world on her own, but she failed. Instead, Frances retreats to the safety of home. "For now she admitted she was too scared to go into the world alone" ( 146 ). At the end of the novel, the portrait of Frances on the cool November afternoon fixes her firmly into a static position in her small Georgia town and severs the possibility of exploring the dynamic qualities of her character that we witness during the summer. Frankie's utter isolation and sheer terror motivate her to seek membership in a traditional community, that, like the cold, inhibits growth. In Frances, the southern story welcomes a new member who submits to its constraints.

By remaining in the limited sphere of her town, and by rejecting her transgressive behavior, Frances is afforded the safety that Frankie sought. "[P]rotection [is] afforded those women within privileged races and classes who do not transgress a limited sphere of movement" ( Martin, Mohanty 196 ). However confining, Frances accepts the protection of the Southern woman's story rather than construct a story of her own. Frances will live out her life in the South and maintain its values and traditions. While Frances waits anxiously to depart for a new house, she finds solace in her friendship with Mary Littlejohn. The queer drawings on the kitchen walls disappear under a new coat of paint. Berenice's and John Henry's stories collapse making room for Mary Littlejohn's story, and Frances' place in it. The hot summer ends. A cool autumn promises Frances the relief that she sought from the sticky summer heat. But we are ever mindful of the compromises she makes to greet the new season.


Carla L. Verderame is an Assistant Professor of English as West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include young adult literature, Southern women writers, Native American literature, and writing and literature pedagogy.

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Reference Citation: Verderame, Carla L. (2000) "Out of Silence into Speech: Two Perspectives of Growing up Female." The ALAN Review , Volume 28, Number 1, p. 42-48.