Everything Matters: Analyzing "13 Reasons Why"

Three nights ago, I dreamt of a school shooting.

I wasn’t scared when they held a gun to me, but when they ran off into the building to attack others, I was terrified. I wonder why...

Then I watched “13 Reasons Why”, a new Netflix show, and I felt vulnerable, and oblivious to the world around me.

I began to feel as if the world was trying to tell me to free my feelings.

Warning: This entire article will be filled with spoilers, as it is an analysis of the characters and events in the show.

13 Reasons Why is a new Netflix show (adapted from a book by Jay Asher) about a girl named Hannah Baker, who takes her own life. After this event, tapes are sent to the people who impacted her decision to kill herself, in order to ultimately tell the story of her life.

Firstly, the most obvious aspect of this show that should be addressed: the fact that nobody noticed Hannah Baker’s pain and suffering throughout her daily life. Clay Jensen even says, “Everybody’s just so damn nice until they drive you to kill yourself.” (“Tape 4, Side A.” Thirteen Reasons Why, Season 1, Episode 7, Paramount Television, March 31 2017. Netflix.) This is extremely evident in the series, as we see in many ways how Hannah’s pain is caused by things that others took lightly. For example, Hannah experienced collateral damage as a result of Courtney keeping her sexuality a secret, Justin dealing with abuse at home, Alex getting revenge on Jessica, Jessica’s anger towards Alex, and Tyler’s passion for photography. We also saw Jeff Atkins die in a car crash directly caused by Sheri’s fear of admitting her mistake, and Bryce’s casual mindset of rape ruin entire lives. As we’ve mentioned before, everyone is a part of two worlds; our personal world, and our collective world. 13 Reasons Why is a surprisingly accurate example of this phenomenon: the effects of students at Liberty High simply living their lives, including their day-to-day behaviour, decisions and actions, broke their peer. They were so lost in their own worlds that they neglected the world that we all live in as a community. Being caught in one world can be dangerous, not only to us, but to everyone around us.

An additional aspect of this show that I found quite interesting, is that it showed both the brightness and the darkness in the life of the character of Hannah Baker. It’s fair to say that she had been through quite a lot, and her suffering and pain was justified. However, the fact that Zach Dempsey hadn’t crumpled up Hannah’s note like she said he had, shows a different side of the story. It shows that people who are going through very difficult times in their lives may see things to be worse than they truly are. This is also backed up by the last episode, where the librarian asks Hannah to return to the poetry reading, and tells her that one of the members had written a poem about how much they longed for her to come back. Yet, this isn’t enough to convince her to keep fighting. Hannah’s hope to be with Clay was also diminished by her own trauma; if this wasn’t the case, she possibly could’ve felt more inclined to keep living. These minor details show that although parts of Hannah’s life were very painful and hard, there were still beautiful parts to it as well, and parts that weren’t as bad as she had seen them. This is a realistic portrayal of how life truly is; nothing is really black and white, and nobody’s life is just good or bad. Rather, there is good and bad in everything, and it’s what we pay attention to that determines our mindsets and our lives.

Social media was a frightening, but realistic tool used to carry out much of the bullying that occurred in the show. We first see how flippantly and passively social media can be used to share photos, when Bryce sends the photo of Hannah at the park, to the students at Liberty High. We see this again when Tyler feels upset about being rejected by Hannah, and sends the students at their school the photograph of her and Courtney. We’ve heard that social media has to be used cautiously time and time again, but to see it be used in a worst-case scenario such as this show, was eye opening and slightly overwhelming. Its power was further accentuated by the way that it placed me, someone who would normally be using social media, in an outsider’s point of view. Social media can be used to connect people and build bridges that could not be built otherwise, however it also has a dark side, which was specifically and effectively conveyed through the story of Hannah Baker.

The impact of Hannah’s suicide and her tapes, was astonishing. The most obvious impact we saw was Clay Jensen’s, of course. He felt grief after Hannah’s death, but was absolutely ruined after the tapes. However, through this trauma, Clay found that he had to make “[his] own justice” and make everyone who contributed to Hannah’s demise, pay in one way or another. He couldn’t understand why the other tape receivers didn’t feel as much guilt as he did, and he needed to make sure they felt it. Alex Standall was also very affected by Hannah’s death. He appears  discoloured and scarred, isolating himself from his usual groups, and feeling intense guilt for what he did to Hannah. Yet, nobody notices any of this in him, and instead, are again caught up in their own lives. Alex Standall is seen cleaning his room, much like Hannah had done before she killed herself. We find out in the last episode that it is Alex who had been shot in the head, and it was suggested that this was a suicide attempt. Finally, we see Tyler Down subpoenaed to court, saying that he had been bullied and isolated by numerous people, including Hannah and the tape receivers. We also see a clip of Tyler packing numerous guns and a large amount of ammunition in a briefcase. All of these aspects of Tyler’s life, from the way he had been treated all his life, to the guns, point to him having a hit list or possibly readying himself to commit a mass murder. I personally wouldn’t be surprised if nobody noticed these things either, and he continued to feel just as much an outlier as he had always felt; similar to how Hannah and Alex felt too. Hannah’s suicide could’ve just been the death of a girl, as tragic as that would be in and of itself, but it wasn’t. Her death was also a catalyst to Clay’s need for justice to be served, Alex Standall’s attempted suicide, and Tyler Down’s potential acts of violence.

There’s a lot we can take away from 13 Reasons Why, but the main idea that is emphasized in the story is awareness. We all struggle with awareness of the world around us, and can become immersed in the world within us, but it’s crucial that we try to strike a balance between the two. We don’t always  know everything that is going on in others’ lives, and it’s crucial that we start building that awareness in order to strengthen our community as human beings. Furthermore, the fact that treating people badly can lead to so many things that are even beyond our realm of realization, was emphasized by Hannah’s story, and the stories of those around her. Shootings? Suicide? They can be caused by hatred, lack of understanding, and lack of communication, which can be rooted in the smallest of actions and interactions. It’s imperative that as a community, we try to love and understand others, so that those around us doesn’t suffer from our lack of awareness.

We can’t rewrite the past, but we have the responsibility to write the future.

Project Semicolon is a campaign that raises awareness about mental health issues and suicide. The founder recently took her own life, which is incredibly tragic. Read more about it here, and raise awareness about these issues. You could save lives: https://projectsemicolon.com/

If you, or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-784-2433.

13 Reasons Why; Yorkey, 2017