|David is a true friend to Melinda, but he tells her something she may not want to hear. He says that people have to speak up for their rights, referring to the suffragettes. What should his word mean to her?
At first let's sum up what happens: Melinda has written an extra-credit report about the suffragettes. It is important to mention that the suffragettes were famous feminist who demanded total equality between woman and man in all areas of life in the beginning of the 20th century. For example they spoke up for their right to vote, to own property and to go to school. Therefore they arranged many demonstrations and some of them even went to prison for their protests. But their strongest way of expression were not poster or literary works. They reached their goals by means of their speeches.
Melinda seems to like this theme. On the one hand I think that because she has chosen it on her own. She could have written a report on every other aspect of the Cultural Influence at the Turn of the Century, but she did not. On the other hand Melinda is very enthusiastic about this issue: “They fought and fought until they earned the rights they should have had all along” (page 179). This enthusiasm is unordinary for Melinda. Normally she does not like the lessons at all and most of the time she seems to feel bored. Now her lethargic has changed into strong interest.
Besides she really tries hard to write a good text: “I write the best report ever. Anything I copy from a book, I put quotes and footnotes…” (page 179).
Melinda hands her report to Mr. Neck because she wants to improve her marks. She makes a great effort to do her essay as well as possible. Certainly she counts on a good result and maybe also on a friendly comment. But her history teacher Mr Neck reacts not in the way you would expect. He does not seem glad at all because Melinda who does not work much for school normally did a voluntary work. Instead of that he wants her to present her report orally. That is because he does not like Melinda at all and of course he knows that she hates to speak in front of the class.
Definitely Melinda does not want to deliver her work. She not only disallows presenting her work orally to the class because she is not self-confident enough or because she does not speak to protest. In reality for Melinda there is no way to recite her report. She is not able to deliver it to the class because she cannot speak to them. It is like a psychological disorders. Melinda cannot avoid her problem to speak just for getting a good mark. Even if she wants, she won't be capable to speak at all.
But Mr Neck forces her to speak. This demand drives Melinda angry: “I'm not going to let an idiot teacher jerk me around like this” (page 180). Unfortunately Melinda is not able to articulate her protest although she is sullen because to deliver the report was not part of the original assignment. So she is punished for a voluntary works and Mr Neck was not fair.
In spite of her silence Melinda finds a way to protest against the force . David helps her to fight against Mr Neck's teaching methods. That means she just gives copies of her report to the class and prepares a short text on the blackboard.
This text indirectly is a short comparison between Melinda and the suffragettes. It says that Melinda fights for her right to stay silent like the suffragettes have fought for their right to speak. This text is formulated in a very clever way.
In spite of it Mr Neck is quite angry and Melinda gets a D for her work. But she is content in a way. She is sure she is right and Mr. Neck is wrong and she thinks that it has been the right decision to stay calm. David understands that Melinda is full of wrath because of Mr Neck, but he questions her manner of acting although he supported her before.
Now he advises her indirectly to speak again: “The suffragettes were all about speaking up, screaming for their rights. You can't speak up for your right to be silent. That's letting the bad guys win. If the suffragettes did that, woman wouldn't be able to vote yet” (page 184).
Of course David literally talks about the suffragettes. But in reality he compares Melinda's situation to the suffragettes'. He agrees with her concerning the unfairness of Mr Neck and he does not want to put her under pressure but he wants to clarify that nobody can reach anything without acting. And acting means also speaking. Speaking, debating, communication: That is what stand humans for.
So in fact David wants Melinda to start speaking again. He wants her to realize that it would be better for her to speak up for her rights. Of course he does not comprehend Melinda's exact problems but there is no doubt that he knows that she has some problems. It is apparently for him because he cares about her.
His words show that he really cares about her. He does not talk with her or spend some time with her to profit or just because he wants to be popular. He is sincere and he really wants to aid her by his advise. He does not want to lie to her although she will feel better if says something like: “I totally agree with you. Nobody can force you do to anything. You don't have to speak!” Instead of this David dares contradicting Melinda although he risks her displeasure .
In my opinion David reacts in the right way. Real friends have to say the truth although the truth sometimes is critic.
But I do not think that Melinda has to speak up for her rights! Of course she just has a chance to defend herself to solve her problems and to achieve her goal when she starts speaking again! But I do not think that such a report is the right method to make her speak again. In her situation a schoolwork is not important anymore. She has not to care about a bad mark. Compared to her real problems a bad mark is not relevant at all. Mr Neck should realize that Melinda has not stopped speaking because she is oafish and wants to make her teachers angry. Mr Neck is a pedagogue. He should be able to discern that Melinda has serious problems!