Thirteen Reasons Why Theme Essay Examples

Perhaps the most prevalent theme in Thirteen Reasons Whyis the theme of repercussions, or cause and effect. In her tapes, Hannah constantly reminds her baker’s dozen that their actions had reverberating, pervasive effects on her life and the lives of others. For example, Justin’s seemingly harmless embellishment of what really happened during his kiss with Hannah led to Alex including Hannah on his list. This in turn led to Bryce and other boys feeling entitled to Hannah’s body, and so and so forth. Another example is Jenny driving drunk and knocking over the stop sign. Just as no one could have foreseen the end result of Justin’s lies, no one would have thought that Jenny’s lapse in judgment could cause a death. And yet, these incongruous actions had devastating results. These repercussions are why Hannah tells her peers again and again that they must be vigilant and thoughtful with their actions.

To Hannah, the gossip and rumors circulated about her, oftentimes by the people she trusted and considered friends, is another form of betrayal. Time and time again she opened up to people, sharing with them her secrets, her inner thoughts, and her emotions, and they just became fodder for the school. The first of these betrayals came from Justin Foley, Hannah’s first kiss. Hannah placed so much significance and importance in this kiss. She imagined for days what it would be like, and made herself emotionally vulnerable to Justin. He repaid her trust in him by spreading rumors about what happened between them, thus beginning the snowball of lies that bulldozed through Hannah’s life. Zach and Jessica, Hannah’s first friends in Crestmont, also betrayed her. Zach used her to get revenge on Jessica, and Jessica slapped Hannah in Monet’s, thus changing a former safe haven for Hannah into a place of pain.

Though Hannah’s peers frequently betrayed her, she is not only a victim. She and Justin betrayed Jessica when they did not stop Bryce from raping her. Hannah’s culpability in Jessica’s rape weighed heavily on her consciousness, and is one of the reasons why she decided to commit suicide. Hannah’s betrayal also demonstrates that no one in Thirteen Reasons Why is completely innocent and safe from blame. All of the characters, even Hannah and Clay, play a role in the circumstances leading to Hannah’s choice.

The dominating factors in Hannah’s decision to commit suicide are the gossip her peers spread about her, and the reputation that formed as result. New to Crestmont, Hannah was looking forward to being in control of how people perceived her. It seems as if at her old school, she was also victim to gossip and bullying, and Crestmont was her second chance (31). Unfortunately for Hannah, Justin Foley embellished the story of their first kiss, and the first seeds of Hannah’s reputation as a promiscuous girl were planted. As school years passed, the gossip surrounding Hannah impacted her interactions with the boys of Crestmont, and those interactions in turn contributed to her unsavory reputation. This vicious cycle continued until it spirals out of control, taking Hannah’s self-confidence, self-love, and peace with it.

The sequence of events Hannah presents in her tapes shows readers the influence of rumors, reputation, and public opinion, especially during high school and the adolescent years. At a time when your personality and body are in constant flux, how other people view and treat you can be of utmost importance. As Hannah says when she found out about Alex’s list, “there’s just something about having everyone agree on something—something about you—that opens a cage of butterflies in your stomach” (63). For Hannah, a young girl whose reputation was formed before people could get to know her truly, the rumors made her reputation a cage she couldn’t escape from. All she wanted was for her peers to know her. “Not the stuff they thought they knew about [her],” but the real her (212). Sadly, as Hannah claims, “you can’t disprove a rumor,” and the ones about her send her to the grave (49).

One of the most tragic elements of Hannah’s story is how oblivious her parents were to her situation. Preoccupied with running their store, Hannah’s parents had no idea she was bullied by her peers, or that terrible rumors were being spread about their daughter. They were also unaware that Hannah had suicide ideation and depression. Their cluelessness persisted until the very end of Hannah’s life. They knew nothing when Tony called and asked them about Hannah’s whereabouts after she gave him the second set of tapes. It is safe to assume that Hannah’s parents were blindsided by their daughter’s death.

Hannah's parents were not the only ones oblivious to the lives of their children. Most of the parents in the story were either willfully uninvolved in their children’s lives, or lied to by their children. One of the recurring jokes of the novel is the go-to-excuse for teens when their parents ask about their activities: “school project” (16). For example, when Clay’s mother sees him listening to Hannah’s tape and asks what he’s doing, he quickly tells her it’s a friend’s school project. Another prime example of this theme is Tyler and his parents. When Clay sees Tyler’s broken window, the window that Marcus and Alex threw rocks at, he wonders if Tyler told his parents about stalking Hannah or her tapes. While keeping secrets from one's parents is a typical, cliché part of adolescence, in Thirteen Reasons Why those secrets have deadly results.

Subjugation is defined as the act or process of bringing something under your complete control, of conquering or mastering something or someone. Countless times in Thirteen Reasons Why, boys attempt to control and abuse the bodies of Hannah and the other girls. Hannah first mentions this treatment during the incident with Bryce at Blue Spot Liquor, when he smacked her butt. Because Alex named her "Best Ass in the Freshman Class," Bryce felt entitled to touch and control Hannah’s body. When Hannah rejected him, Bryce forcibly grabbed her arm and told her, “I’m only playing, Hannah” (80). To Hannah, this demonstrated that Bryce saw her as his play toy, an object for his amusement.

Of course, the most egregious example of subjugation of the female body in Thirteen Reasons Why is Jessica’s rape. When Bryce sexually abused Jessica, he once again showcased his chauvinism and misogyny. He clearly has no respect for woman’s autonomy and the human right to say no. His encounter with Hannah in the hot tub, where he persisted with his sexual advances even as Hannah began to cry, further solidifies these points.

While Bryce’s actions towards women are amongst the worst in Thirteen Reasons Why, they certainly are not the only ones. Zach, Alex, Tyler, and Marcus all tried to subjugate, control, and manipulate Hannah and her body in various ways throughout the novel. For example, Tyler didn’t try to physically touch Hannah, but he did invade her privacy at home by being a Peeping Tom. Tyler’s actions were on par with those of the other boys in Hannah’s mind because he took away one of her few remaining safe havens. Furthermore, by taking intimate photos of Hannah without her permission, Tyler showed that he also considered her as something under his control, an object for his consumption and enjoyment. With all of these boys subjugating and manipulating her, Hannah felt like a stranger in her own body. Their treatment is partly why Hannah decided to end her life.

Hannah’s tapes serve as more than just her suicide note. They are part of a cautionary tale for her baker’s dozen, showing them how they contributed to someone’s death and warning them to stop their current ways of life before they do this to someone else.

They also act as part of Hannah’s revenge. While revenge might not have been Hannah’s conscious intention with her tapes, it is definitely a side effect. Hearing about their role in Hannah’s death, and having their peers privy to that role, has a devastating impact on the baker’s dozen. In addition to tarnishing their reputations and messing with their minds, the tapes have a visceral and physical impact on their bodies. Those that have heard the tapes appear physically battered and strained at school. Even Clay, who Hannah declares doesn’t belong on her list, experiences a severe migraine while listening to the tapes. That is how powerful and painful the tapes are. After enduring alone the pain and loneliness her peers caused, Hannah takes her revenge by leveling those sensations onto them.

Central to Thirteen Reasons Why are the secrets and lies that drove Hannah to commit suicide. One of the main functions of Hannah’s tapes is to bring these secrets to light, and to expose the truth. As she (ironically) says during Ryan’s tape, “the truth shall set you free” (288). Of course, exposing the truth is easier said than done. As Hannah reveals the secrets of her classmates and debunks their lies, readers experience mental and physical anguish. For example, Clay begins to question everything he knew about his school and his classmates. When he listens to Marcus sexually assaulting Hannah, he thinks, “It’s too much. Too much to handle,” and grips his stomach in pain (222). And later on, in reaction to hearing about Bryce’s rape of Jessica, Clay vomits.

Clearly, exposing the truth comes at a price, and could have far-reaching repercussions beyond ruining reputations. For example, while Courtney stands to lose her status as a popular girl because of the role she played in Hannah’s death, Bryce could face prison time for his atrocious acts, and Mr. Porter could lose his job. For various reasons, the baker’s dozen all have an investment in making sure the truth stays buried. Unfortunately for them, Hannah refuses to continue being the sole bearer of her classmates’ secrets and lies, and exposes them for others to see.

The novel Thirteen Reasons Why is a young-adult fiction by Jay Asher. According to Goodreads, he was born in Arcadia, California on September 30, 1975. He grew up in a family that encouraged all of his interests, from playing the guitar to his writing. He attended Cuesta College right after graduating from high school. It was here where he wrote his first two children’s books for a class called Children’s Literature Appreciation. At this point in his life, he had decided he wanted to become an elementary school teacher. He then transferred to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where he left his senior year in order to pursue his career as a serious writer. Throughout his life he worked in various establishments, including as a salesman in a shoe store and in libraries and bookstores. Many of his work experiences had an impact on some aspect of his writing. He has published only one book to date, Thirteen Reasons Why, which was published in October 2007 by RazorBill. He is currently working on his second Young Adult novel, and has written several picture books and screenplays. Thirteen Reasons Why has won several awards and has received five stars from Teen Book Review. It also has received high reviews from fellow authors such as Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher, and
Gordon Kormon. (Jay Asher, n.d.)

According to Shmoop, Asher himself had confronted the issue of suicide when a relative of his took their own life. An audio tour of King Tut’s tomb inspired the novel’s unique multimedia format. And finally, an icy Wyoming road inspired the suspenseful plot. (Interview in source.) Put it all together and you get a phenomenal novel that won pretty much every award out there. Including the Shmoop-loves-it award.

II. Summary

Clay Jensen, a peer of Hannah, is a shy student who is described as the “perfect guy.” One day, after school, Clay receives a box sitting in front of his door. Inside the box, Clay discovers seven tapes and a map by Hanna Baker, who was a regular high school student. However, one day Hannah decides to commit suicide. She believes that she has no needs to live anymore. The novel Thirteen Reasons Why is narrated by two characters: Hannah and Clay. Before Hannah dies, she had recorded tapes for the thirteen reasons why she decided to commit suicide. Hannah gave instructions to the first tape listener to pass down the tapes when he or she is done listening. The first person who played a role in Hannah’s death was Justin Foley. He was the first kiss Hannah had. Freshmen year of high school, Hanna had a crush on him. However Justin exaggerates the kiss he had with Hannah. Hannah was new to her high school and since Justin lied about his kiss with her, this creates a negative impression about Hannah. Justin appears in the tape two times. The second reason he appears is because at a party with Jessica Davis, she leaves her in a room and Jessica gets raped. Hannah was hiding in the closet and viewed the tragic event that happened to her friend.

After the negative reputation, Alex Standall adds on the reputation making everything worse. During class, Alex creates a Who’s Hot and Who’s Not list and under the hot column, Hannah is marked with the “Hottest Ass in the Freshman Class.” On top of the exaggerated kiss gossip with Justin, Alex decides to create the list where the whole school figures out. Hannah starts to become the object of sexual harassment, the sexual icon. Due to Alex and Justin, Hannah becomes to build a bad reputation at school. Students begin to create rumors about Hannah and the amount or rumors increase until Hannah is no longer able to handle all the rumors. Jessica Davis, Alex, and Hannah were all once friends since they were new to the school. However since Jessica was not under the hot section of the list, she is jealous of Hannah. Jessica liked Alex but thought Alex like Hannah. Jessica and Hannah would be able to talk about different stuff, however Hannah was betrayed by Jessica. Jessica believed that the rumors were true, therefore starts to create a distance between herself and Hannah. One day Hannah notices that Tyler Down has been at her window peeking in and taking photos of her. Courtney Crimsen, a popular student decides to help Hannah. Tyler stole Hannah’s safety at home. On the other side, when Tyler gets caught, the next day Courtney does not talk with Hannah. Courtney wants to keep her positive reputation so she acts friendly to Hannah.

On Valentine’s Day, the cheerleaders come up with a fundraising event. Hannah was listed on Marcus Cooley’s list. Marcus and Hannah were to meet at Rosie’s Diner but Hannah is there alone waiting for Marcus. Marcus shows up about half an hour later because he thought they were just joking about meeting. When they are at the Diner, Hannah goes through sexual harassment. At the Diner, Zach Dempsey witnesses the confrontation between the two. Instead of helping her, Zach makes the situation worse. Hannah’s hobby is to write poems. Through the poem, Hannah is able to express herself and reduce stress. Ryan Shaver, a member of the school newspapers shares private poems, but publishes one of Hannah’s private poem. He steels the poem of Hannah’s and published it, taking away Hannah’s pride to write poetry. Clay Jensen, the co-narrator is the ninth one on the thirteen reasons why Hannah decides to commit suicide. This is the most significant section because Hannah could have survived from her pain. Clay had a secret crush on Hannah and Hannah fell in love with Clay.

However, Hannah was unable to manage her emotions towards everything and acted cruelly to Clay. Unlike the other characters, Clay is on the list because Hannah regrets not being able to know Clay. On the other hand, Clay feels guilty not being able to be on Hannah’s side. At a school party, after Hannah kissed Clay and pushing him back away, if Clay did not leave, Clay keeps believing that Hannah would have had a reason to survive. Clay goes through all the points that are listed on the tape to have a flashback of Hannah. Clay regrets and suffers through guilt. After the party with Clay, Hannah is walking back. Jenny Kurtz, a cheerleader spots her and asks if Hannah needs a ride since Hannah is drunk. Jenny hits a stop side and resists to contact anyone. Hannah gets kicked out of the car and witnesses an old man getting injured and the death of a high school student peer. One night there was an after party of Courtney’s and Bryce Walker had invited her. She did not want to go to the party because Courtney was hosting it but then decided to go as the last party Hannah would attend.

At the party, Hannah engages in a manual sex with Bryce. After this activity Hannah forces herself to conclude to committing suicide. The last person Hannah relied too was her English teacher and counselor. She hesitates to ask the counselor for help but goes to him. Hannah does not easily discuss the events that occurred to make her life miserable. However after the counselor asking questions, Hannah speaks up. Though she is at the counselors, she does not gain any advice. When Hannah leaves the office because of anger, the counselor does not stop her. This is when Hannah figures out it is the correct decision to commit suicide. Through the tapes, Hannah expresses her pain, thoughts, and expressions towards each person. She explains how each reflected a reason to take Hannah’s life away from her. Through the tapes, Clay realizes that nobody knows what will happen to someone, therefore each person should be cared with love. At the end of the novel, Clay approaches to talk to somebody he met but never talked to. Clay is able to learn through the tapes (Hughes, K., n.d.).

III. Analysis

After reading this novel, I realized that it has always been in human nature to search for reasons behind what’s happening in our lives, and 13 Reasons Why has given its readers a story of everybody’s endless search for reasons and how finding these reasons is very life-changing. The novel takes us inside in the juvenile mind of fictional character, Hannah Baker, as she recalls events that led her to the decision to take her own life. As I listened along with Clay, I often found myself having the same reactions to Hannah’s story as a teenager and as mature person. It turned out to be a brutally honest exploration of both the victim and those left behind wondering why and how such a thing could have happened. All the characters, including Hannah, were left with the quest to indeed find such reasons. Hannah’s reasons didn’t come easy to her. I saw how she herself had a hard time to gain a clearer view to what her reasons were, and how those mere circumstances ended being her reasons in the first place. We saw that once she fell into a depression, every bad thing that happened to her, no matter how big or small, was magnified by her bleak outlook on life. Similarly in adults, once somebody is depressed, any small thing that goes wrong in their life can feel ten times worse than it actually is.

This situation can be worsened by the fact that we don’t have a crystal-clear idea why were depressed in the first place. Hannah Baker saw how it is frustrating not knowing such reasons and that’s where the list of her reasons started. All throughout the story, the author gave emphasis on the grave importance of reasons in someone’s life, especially in Hannah’s. It is common that people undergoing adolescence starts to ask themselves the bigger questions such as how and why. It was an eye-opener for me to see that her search for reasons was not just based on an impulsive whim, but it was based on her own desire for closure regarding her life. I found myself with the conclusion that the reason why it is in human nature to look for reasons is that we want to acquire peace within ourselves which can only be achieved when we gain enlightenment to the answers of how and why. In the novel, Hannah Baker did just that.


Jay Asher. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2014, from Shmoop. (n.d.). Retrieved September 27, 2014, from Hughes, Kathryn (2010, January 23). Thirteen Reasons Why. The Guardian. Retrievefrom Commonsense Media. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2014, from Dar, Carson. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2014, from


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