Criticism on the themes in Thirteen Reasons Why


In this criticism, K.A. discusses how shifts in point of view contribute to the themes.

Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why presents a story of suicide that a small community cannot grasp. However, a select group of classmates, including the main character, Clay Jensen, have the unfortunate privilege of hearing Hannah Baker’s suicide tapes a couple weeks after her death. On the tapes, Hannah tells her life story, which consists of thirteen different experiences. The people who are listening to the tapes are Hannah’s “reasons” for why she believes that suicide is her only option for relief. Asher’s central literary technique is the use of a constant shift in point of view between the two main characters. The point of view shifts between Hannah telling her story on the tapes and Clay listening and reacting to what he hears on the tapes. The different emotions that are expressed by both Hannah and Clay, while dissecting the stories from the tapes, contribute to the overall themes of consequence, death, and guilt.

The main point Hannah makes through the tapes is to let her classmates know that their poor choices of action toward her cause her to commit suicide. Rumors are spread, assumptions are made, and Hannah cannot handle the reputation everyone has given her. Before following through with an action, people need to consider the consequences because after an action is completed, anything can happen. In Hannah’s last tape, she seeks advice from her guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, in a final attempt to be convinced to stay alive. The advice he gives her about handling her situation is to just move on. What Mr. Porter does not understand is that Hannah has lost faith in herself; she is not capable of simply moving on. Then, Hannah tries to get Mr. Porter’s attention again:

If nothing’s going to change, then I’d better get on with it, right?”
-“Hannah, what are you talking about”?
“I’m talking about my life, Mr. Porter.” (Asher 279)

Mr. Porter is given the opportunity to save her, but he fails to realize it, even after she announces it directly to him. Hannah’s suicide is a consequence of Mr. Porter’s actions and he now has to deal with that for the rest of his life. If more people were considerate and cared about the feelings of others, there would be more prevention of situations like Hannah’s.
The entire novel portrays death through Hannah’s story, her thirteen reasons why. Hannah’s story starts with her coming up with the idea of suicide, then transitioning to her thinking suicide is the answer and finally deciding suicide is the answer. Hannah’s deciding factor to end her life is when Mr. Porter gives her the wrong advice at the wrong time, but the idea first comes to her when she realizes that no one cares for her or her feelings. On one of her tapes, she recites a poem that she wrote to express her feelings towards the current situation in her life.

I meet your eyes
you don’t see me
You hardly respond
when I whisper
hello
Could be my soul mate
two kindred spirits
Maybe we’re not
I guess we’ll never
know

My own mother
you carried me in you
Now you see nothing
but what I wear
People ask you
how I am doing
You smile and nod
don’t let it end
there

Put me
underneath God’s sky and
know me
don’t just see me with your eyes
Take away
this mask of flesh and bone and
see me
for my soul

alone” (Asher 190-191)

It is interpreted by some classmates that her poem is about dealing with herself; that she needs to appreciate herself even though others are making her feel worthless. However, the poem is not about dealing with herself, it is about how lonely she really is and how she wants to be noticed for her, not her label. Hannah struggles with getting help from others, but she is not putting enough effort into it either. She expects everyone to know what is going on, but no one knows the truth of the situation except for the listeners of her tapes. Whether her pleas for help are direct or indirect, everyone ignores them. The poem reflects Hannah’s death because it is about what makes her want to commit suicide, which is the failure of her peers to recognize her as herself. She cannot handle everyone’s ignorance, so she thinks the only way to escape from them is death.

The theme of guilt is expressed from Clay’s point of view right from the first tape he listens to. Between Hannah’s words on the tapes and his thoughts on her situations, Clay is found guilty of believing in false rumors, believing in her false reputation, and being the only person who Hannah knew for sure could have saved her.

No one knows for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people” (Asher 156).

In Clay’s tape, Hannah tells the story of how she feels about him and how she knew that she needed him to save her from herself. The two of them secretly want to know each other, and one night at a party, they spend time together and get to know each other for the first time. Hannah wants to tell Clay what she is going through, but her emotions get to her and she sends him away. And he listens. If Clay did not leave Hannah, she might have been able to express her feelings to someone who would have cared. Like most people, she would probably deny that she is upset, but it would be easy to tell she is lying. Hannah has already tried to get attention and she is forced to believe that she does not deserve any at all. When Clay listens to Hannah’s voice on the tape say that she needed him at that moment, Clay realizes that he had the chance to save her. Most people do not realize how much control they have on the lives of others. People act and comment without thinking. It only takes one poor choice of action to crush a person’s ego. While listening to the tapes, Clay feels guilty because he knows he could have let Hannah talk to him; he could have stopped her from having such thoughts of suicide, just as any other person on her tapes could have.

The themes of consequence, death, and guilt are all portrayed in Asher’s novel by the shifts in point of view. Hannah reveals that her death is the consequence of everyone’s actions and she wants her listeners to know that they are the reasons why she committed suicide. The theme of guilt would not be present if there was not a shift to Clay’s point of view. His reactions to her tapes reveal that her points are true. Clay feels guilty because if he stayed with her and made the effort to reach out and help her, she would still be alive.

(K.A. 2014)

The Sense of Security in Thirteen Reasons Why

[(Essay date 10 June 2011) In this criticism, K.Z. analyzes Hannah Baker’s safe havens, and how through the occurrence of certain events with particular individuals, are destroyed; how Hannah loses her entire sense of security.]

Throughout Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, Hannah Baker endures the effects of an inaccurate, rumor-based reputation, which thus results in her incapability to trust and be trusted by others. Equally paired with this failure of trust, is Hannah’s loss of her safe havens. These safe havens have comforted Hannah in her weakest and most vulnerable moments. Now gone however, they are no longer safe places for Hannah to escape from the reality of her life. With no trust and no sense of security, Hannah succumbs to suicide.

The back corner table in Monet’s Garden Café and Coffeehouse once symbolized a secluded, private, safe haven for three friends: Hannah Baker, Alex Standall, and Jessica Davis; three newcomers to the town, who bonded during the first few weeks of school. “…Monet’s Garden was our safe haven. If one of us had a hard time fitting in or meeting people, we’d go to Monet’s. Back in the garden, at the far table to the right” says Hannah (Asher 62). Monet’s was a place where saying things like “Olly-olly-oxen-free,” when one was stressed, could be freely expressed, and where laughter dissipated any problems and anxieties; where three people got to know one another. Furthermore, it was a place where Hannah could write her poetry. However, two events changed that forever, her public safe haven. Monet’s now marks the spot where Jessica believed the rumors and accused Hannah of being responsible for her breakup with Alex; marks the location of the fight in which Jessica physically and emotionally scarred Hannah. Also, Monet’s now reminds Hannah of Alex’s infamous “Who’s Hot/Who’s Not” list, in which she was deemed “Best Ass,” a title which only furthers her ever growing, false reputation of being “easy”. Monet’s Garden Café and Coffeehouse loses its significance, in now being incapable of cradling Hannah; protecting her from the lies, rumors, and distrust.

Home, particularly one’s bedroom, is the ultimate cocoon of security and safety. The bedroom, one of the most personal of places, is where one has the freedom of self expression. For Hannah, her bedroom shielded her from the ugliness of the world, one full of misunderstanding, deceit and pain; one in which she was misjudged. Through her slightly tilted window blinds, she could peer up at the stars or watch the lightning during a thunderstorm; she could see the limited beauty of the ugly world; could dream and hope. This security blanket environment dissipates however, with “Peeping Tom,” Tyler Down’s photographs. “My house. My bedroom. They were supposed to be safe for me. Safe from everything outside. But you (“Peeping Tom”) were the one who took that away” says Hannah (89). By secretly taking pictures of Hannah from outside her window, Tyler Down takes one of the most vital safe havens of all, from Hannah.

Hannah’s next ruined safe haven is school. Hannah viewed her school as a place to meet potential friends. Her hopes are crushed however, after taking Peer Communications with Zach Dempsey. The class was comprised of discussions, and was to help “…us better understand ourselves and each other” describes Hannah (155). Yet this class proved to do hardly that. Hannah’s anonymous comment of considering suicide results in a brief class discussion, one full of annoyance, insincerity, and little concern; the compassion which Hannah craves cannot be found. This lack of compassion and Hannah’s desperate need of it, is further depicted in Zach Dempsey’s immature act of stealing Hannah’s notes. With neither signs of outreach from others, nor the complimentary notes, the school environment which Hannah once viewed as an opportunity to meet and trust new people, diminishes into hopeless mob of individuals, “A place. Just filled with people that I’m required to be with” explains Hannah (274). With no one seeming to care, Hannah’s security net of school, rips; another safe haven gone.

Poetry has always been an escape for Hannah. Her thoughts, translated into beautiful words, poems; her outlet to pour all the burdensome emotions that lay buried deep within her soul, her heart. This final save haven, her own thoughts, though, is inevitably destroyed with the publication of her poem, “Soul Alone.” Published by Ryan Shaver in the school newspaper, Lost-N-Found, even Hannah’s thoughts now were no longer private and secure. “Now suddenly, even my own thoughts were being offered up for ridicule” realizes Hannah (192). Hannah’s sense of security and privacy evidently vanishes.

Hannah Baker experiences the overwhelming feeling of emptiness, and absolute loneliness. She desires ever so much to be cared about, to befriend an individual, yet fails miserably. This failure is amplified with the invasion of her privacy, as her four main safe havens transform into environments of harsh ridicule; far from safety and comfort. Jay Asher intertwines this loss of sense of security with Hannah’s unsuccessful attempts to let someone see the actual Hannah Baker; to trust her and be trusted by her. In doing so, Asher ties together the multiple instances and characters that forever change Hannah; ultimately portraying the drain of Hannah’s hope and her death. Furthermore, this emphasizes the effects an individual has on another.

(K.Z. 2011)