Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Tyler’s Photograph (Symbol)

While attending a party with Courtney Crimsen, Hannah realizes that the other girl was just using her and had no intention of actually being her friend. To get revenge, Hannah makes Tyler take a photograph of her and Courtney at the party to make it look as if the two girls are best of friends. Later on, when Hannah sees the photo and how happy she appears in it, she is shaken by how fake it is. Anyone looking at the photo would not be “sharing the moment” or seeing the reality of the situation (194). They would not know the truth of Hannah’s life. For Hannah, Tyler’s photograph began to represent the secrets and lies that destroyed her life. It symbolized that no one knew her life besides what was on the surface level.

The Party (Symbol)

The party where Clay and Hannah had their moment is the climax of Thirteen Reasons Why because it’s where the different storylines and characters of Hannah’s story collide. The party symbolizes the confluence of all the factors that drove Hannah to commit suicide. It is a tangible representation of the tangled web Hannah and her classmates weaved, the messy final product of their lies, secrets, gossip, and rumors. It is also the tipping point of Hannah’s decision.

Giving Up (Motif)

Giving up, or losing faith and hope, is a recurring idea in Thirteen Reasons Why. The obvious example is Hannah giving up on life, and losing faith in herself and her ability to have a happy life someday. Another example of this motif that involves Hannah emerges when she allows Bryce to have sex with her in Courtney’s hot tub. Before that moment, Hannah had never given in to the promiscuous reputation her peers had set for her (414). But at that point, Hannah had already given up on herself and no longer had the energy to fight. Thus, she gives in to Bryce’s unrelenting and unwanted sexual advances.

Clay is also an example of the giving up motif. From the moment Hannah arrives at school, Clay is interested in her, but he gives up on his feelings because of the gossip surrounding Hannah. The rumors of Hannah’s promiscuity and confidence with boys make Clay think Hannah is too cool and out of his league.

Stealing (Motif)

Stealing is another major motif of Thirteen Reasons Why. Hannah’s classmates steal tangible and intangible things from her. Tyler steals her privacy, whereas Justin begins the process of stealing her reputation. Ryan steals her poem, but he also steals her sense of self and her last safe space—her mind. Zach steals the last thing keeping Hannah afloat—the encouragement notes from their Peer Communications class.

Even Clay steals when he intentionally takes Tony’s Walkman without his permission. He doesn’t want Tony to know why he needs the tape player, and so sneaks it into his backpack when helping Tony fix his car. However, in comparison to Bryce’s theft, Clay’s actions seem almost benign. When Bryce rapes Jessica he robs her of bodily autonomy and the basic human right to say no.

The Desire to Change Events (Motif)

“Even though I had a history in that house, it didn’t matter. You can’t go back to how things were. How you thought they were. All you really have… is now.” (323)

Central to Hannah and Clay’s story is the desire to change past events, to go back in time and alter the past, thus creating a new future. Time and time again while listening to the tapes, Clay thinks if only he had reached out to Hannah sooner, or if only he could have prevented his classmates from having certain encounters or saying certain things, Hannah might still be alive. But as Hannah constantly reminds her baker’s dozen, none of them can take anything back. They cannot rewrite the past. “All [they] really have… is now,” and so they must do their best to be understanding and considerate in the present, not retroactively (323).