Thirteen Reasons Why tells the story of thirteen people who influenced high schooler Hannah Baker to commit suicide. Told from the point of view of her classmate Clay, who is slowly listening to seven cassette tapes on which Hannah has recorded her story, the novel is a suspenseful revelation of the many forces that combined to demoralize Hannah.
13 Reasons Why Symbols | Symbols in Thirteen Reasons Why
THE CASSETTE TAPES
THE BROKEN STOP SIGN
The cassette tapes reveal things about Hannah’s life and expose hurtful behaviors, and represent truth and revenge. Clay’s ability to pause, stop, and rewind the tapes at will is a poignant reminder that real life cannot be paused or rewound, and it is too late to help Hannah.
The broken stop sign reflects the characters' inability or unwillingness to stop the negative forces in their lives. A number of tragedies could have been stopped if people made better choices and bystanders made stronger efforts to intervene.
Hannah's scar is a physical representation of her emotional pain. The scar is a daily reminder of the kind of betrayal and lack of dependable friends that she experiences over and over. Each new time she is betrayed, her emotional wound grows deeper.
THE DESTRUCTIVE POWER OF SELFISHNESS
Inviting Hannah to the party will make me look like a nice person!
SYMBOLS IN 13 REASONS WHY
INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF PEOPLE AND EVENTS
THE ROLE OF RUMORS AND REPUTATION
Just relax, Hannah.
Many of the worst behaviors in the novel are motivated by selfishness. Characters ignore the well-being of others to pursue their own pleasure or avoid facing justice. A healthy, happy community requires concern for others. Clay takes this to heart when he reaches out to help Skye.
Hannah talks about the “snowball effect”, arguing that one action combines with others to produce unintended repercussions. Hannah notes connections between people and events that brought her to the point of suicide.
Hannah’s tapes draw attention to the effects of rumors. Rumors shape her reputation, influencing the way others treat her. As her reputation grows, people take advantage of her, touching her in unwanted and inappropriate ways. Ultimately, a rumor is the first step in the chain of events leading to Hannah’s suicide.