Just for fun, Short stories & poems

13 symbolic representations found in Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why

What can I say? When you study three units of English and then a minor in English literature, you can’t watch or read anything without automatically analysing it to bits. It’s a curse.


Recently, I binged Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, and I really liked it. I understand there’s heaps of controversy surrounding the show, including criticism that it “glamorises suicide”. I don’t think so, but that’s another essay post.

Here we go, 13 symbolic representations I spotted from the show. I’m sure there are more, and I sure what I have below can be read in different ways. This is just my reading of what I saw.

1. Why cassette tapes? Yeah, it was because Hannah wanted those responsible to “make an effort” to hear her out, and they were easily accessible to her. But, let’s face it: most teens today won’t have a cassette tape player, and if they have to go out of their way to listen to the tapes, I doubt they’d bother. So, I think the cassette tapes represent that bullying isn’t a modern schoolyard issue. It’s a timeless problem, and the cassette tapes represent this link to the past and that bully existed then too.

2. The cafe the kids go to in the series is called Monet’s Cafe, and there are a couple of ways to read this.

  • Monet is father of French Impressionist painting, a style of art that incorporates small brushstrokes to create an image, or an impression of something. This can be interpreted as how Hannah offers the impression of being okay despite being broken and shredded little by little inside.

    giphy (3)

  • Impressionism also emphasises the correct depiction of light and its qualities, and in the series, the characters often go to Monet’s to find things out, talk things through…generally to shed light on the situation. Boom.

3. Clay begins listening to Hannah’s tapes in the first episode, and almost immediately after he starts, he crashes his bicycle and gets a nasty head injury that lasts throughout the season. Firstly, this is really smart because the physical difference makes it clear whether we’re watching the “present” (post Hannah’s suicide) or flashbacks to events as they occurred.

However, I also feel Clay had been delaying dealing with how he feels about Hannah’s suicide. He’d put off acknowledging how he was hurt by it, and the tapes force him to address the pain he’s in from her death. The head wound represents a physical, emotional and psychologic pain; and its healing corresponds with his internal healing too.

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4. According to the Tape 1, Hannah’s descent into victimhood literally began with her descent down a slide at a playground. It is during that descent that an incriminating photo of her was taken and spread without her consent, which leads to the rumours that is the first attack on her person. The slide down represents her character’s descent into what eventually results in her suicide.

5. While we’re on the slide, the playground is a representation of a carefree childhood and innocence. Throughout the season, Hannah never returns to that playground, which represents that there was no going back for her once she went down that slide.

6. In the show, Hannah works in a movie theatre called The Crestmont with Clay. And, often, this is where she’s most herself. Again, this location can be read in a couple of ways:

  • The theatre represents escapism, the way movies are, for Hannah. Here, she isn’t bothered by the rumours and bullies that plague her.
  • Even though this is a movie theatre, the decor is still much like that of an actual theatre with a stage. This can interpreted as saying high school is just a stage in your life. Had Hannah understood that, and that it will pass, perhaps she wouldn’t have committed suicide.

7. Ryan Shaver is the editor of the school magazine (Lost and Found) and he prints a poem Hannah wrote without her consent, representing the potential corruption of the press in our world, and how it can affect individuals.

8. Every person mentioned on the tapes – besides Clay, who Hannah admits on the tape shouldn’t even be on them – is hiding behind a visage of some kind. Whether it’s their reputation as the cheerleader, popular girl, the nice guy, intellectual, or jock, everyone wears a mask. The only ones who are truly bare are Hannah and Clay. This implies that bullies often hide behind a mask that disguises their own problems and insecurities.

9. Every development in Hannah’s deterioration goes through someone else’s device of some kind: Justin’s smartphone, Tyler’s camera, Ryan’s magazine, Courtney’s gossiping. etc. This represents how perspective has nothing to do with the truth, and also how easy it is to manipulate the truth.

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All gifs via GIPHY

10. In Episode 8, Tony takes Clay on a rock climb. When a piece breaks loose and crumbles away, Tony says, “I lost a handhold. Give me a second, I’ll figure this out,” representing his method of dealing with obstacles and loss in life. Shortly after, Tony completes the climb and throws down a rope to help Clay the rest of the way, which also represents how Clay needs a little help to get through things.

11. Tony, with his car, is the physical and metaphoric driver of Clay’s journey through the tapes and dealing with Hannah’s suicide.

12. Poems are described as someone’s truth in Episode 8, and when Hannah’s poem is published in the school magazine without her knowledge or consent, the majority of students at her school react by making fun of it. They can’t get past the nakedness of the words and turn it into a joke, symbolising their inability to acknowledge what’s true. Instead, they zero in on the sensationalism. This also symbolises society as a whole: our preference for click bait over delving deeper to find the truth.

13. Late in the series, Hannah goes through a physical transformation: cutting her hair short and leaving her flowy dresses behind in favour or more layers. She is physically and psychologically retreating behind thick and shapeless layers to hide from her tormentors.


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