Literary Devices In 13 Reasons Why

Introduction to 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why centers on high school student Clay Jensen receiving a mysterious package of cassette tapes from his recently deceased classmate and crush, Hannah Baker. On the tapes, Hannah’s voice explains that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to take her own life. Each side of each tape details a reason and the people involved. As Clay listens, he realizes he is one of the reasons mentioned, though he cannot understand why. The novel unfolds with Clay being drawn deeper and deeper into Hannah’s disturbing story. With gripping drama and important themes, Asher crafts an unflinching look at bullying, depression, isolation and suicide.

Summary of 13 Reasons Why

After Hannah Baker commits suicide, her friend Clay Jensen receives a box of cassette tapes that Hannah left behind before her death. Clay and twelve other classmates are recipients of the tapes, each one detailing an individual reason that contributed to Hannah’s decision to take her life. Clay listens in shock as Hannah reveals instances of gossip, bullying, sexual assault and betrayals by her peers that comprised her thirteen reasons.

As Clay follows the tapes’ map of Hannah’s pain and listens to her voice one last time, he grapples with intense feelings of grief and anger. He questions how he may have unwittingly contributed through negligence and inaction. Clay himself is on Hannah’s list, though he does not know which reason applies to him. Hannah dictates that after each person listens, they must pass the tapes along to the next person mentioned. Each recipient struggles with remorse and trauma after hearing Hannah’s story unfold.

In the end, the tapes find their way back to the person who received them first, leading to a haunting conclusion. Hannah’s tapes have a profound effect on those who receive them. Her reasons shine a harsh light on the toxic underbelly of high school life and the need for empathy, open communication, and vigilance in creating a safe environment for all.

Themes of 13 Reasons Why

Some major themes include:

  • Bullying, gossip and their devastating emotional impacts
  • Sexual assault, harassment, and consent
  • Depression, mental health struggles, and the need for compassion
  • Teen suicide and the tragic consequences of pain left unaddressed
  • Courage, speaking truth to power, and breaking the silence around issues
  • Personal responsibility and being accountable for one’s actions

Characters of 13 Reasons Why

  • Hannah Baker – The protagonist who records the 13 tapes explaining her reasons for suicide
  • Clay Jensen – Hannah’s classmate and crush who receives the tapes and narrates the main storyline
  • Tony Padilla – Clay’s friend who acts as a custodian of Hannah’s tapes after her death
  • Jessica Davis – Hannah’s friend who was sexually assaulted, a key reason for Hannah’s despair
  • Justin Foley – Jessica’s boyfriend who enabled the sexual assault, later filled with regret
  • Bryce Walker – Hannah’s rapist who represents profound cruelty and lack of empathy
  • Mr. Porter – The school guidance counselor who fails Hannah when she asks for help

Literary Devices Used in 13 Reasons Why

Asher employs several powerful literary techniques to bring Hannah’s story to life:

1- Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows more about a situation than the characters themselves. This creates tension and emotional weight:

“Hannah Baker’s voice is what I hear. Coming through the small speaker at the front of the Walkman. And for the next few hours, that voice will narrate my life. How is that possible? She’s dead.”

In this excerpt, dramatic irony is established. The reader understands that Hannah has committed suicide, knowledge Clay does not yet possess as he begins listening to her tapes. This dramatic irony will continue to heighten the emotional impact as Hannah’s story unfolds.

“It’s my turn to swallow. To try to stay calm. This is it. This is happening. The reasons have already started.”

Here Clay expresses shock at the revelations beginning to come to light through Hannah’s tapes. The reader knows far more about the tragic reasons why Hannah died, creating gripping dramatic tension.

2- Symbolism

Symbols represent deeper meanings that resonate throughout the novel:

“The sidewalk helps guide my footsteps as I follow the map Hannah drew.”

The map Hannah drew acts as a symbol representing her guidance from beyond the grave as Clay retraces her tragic path. Other symbols like tapes, stars, and objects hold symbolic weight.

“His footsteps drown out the scratching of a pen against paper. So much for that symbolism.”

Here a pen scratching paper represents human connection that gets silenced and ignored. This poignant symbolic image emphasizes a person’s voice and story being suppressed.

“I’ll let the cold stars witness everything.”

The stars Hannah gazes at symbolize her loneliness and unseen pain. Countless overlooked emotions hidden under starlight are symbolically conveyed.

3- Multiple Perspectives

The use of multiple first-person narrators adds layers of complexity:

“It starts with my first kiss and my first girlfriend. The first person who proved how innocent I was when it came to sex. And ended with the first person to show me I had a lot to learn.”

Hannah speaks in retrospective first-person through the tapes.

“How have I missed so much? How could I have been so clueless?”

Clay’s first-person interior thoughts express shock and missed signals as he listens. By alternating between Hannah’s voiced narrative on the tapes and Clay’s inner thoughts, the novel provides contrasting perspectives. Hannah’s pain meets Clay’s dawning horror and guilt. These two subjective viewpoints create an emotionally resonant reading experience.

4- Foreshadowing

Asher hints at future events to build suspense and anticipation:

“Am I one of the reasons? Is that why I got this? Must be. But which one?”

This line foreshadows that Clay is indeed one of the 13 reasons, creating curiosity about how he may have contributed. There are many hints of revelations to come.

5- Non-Linear Narrative Structure

The novel’s unusual story structure contributes greatly to emotional impact:

“My mind is spinning out of control. I had to stop and start over several times to fully understand this tape.”

Asher inverts story structure by opening with the final chronological events. The novel then flashes back to fill in details, revealing pieces of the tragic full picture.

6- Motifs

Recurring motifs develop symbolic patterns and reinforce key themes:

“Hannah’s silenced…by a zipped lip. A finger pressed against invisible lips. None of us heard her. The tears, if there were any, dried before they hit the ground.”

The motif of silenced voices and unheard cries reinforces the central theme of Hannah’s pain being ignored, while symbolically representing her inner anguish.

“The sidewalk loops around familiar streets. Streets I’ve spent most of my life traveling.”

The motif of maps, paths, and geography symbolizes the ways Hannah’s pain is embedded in physical spaces and routes within her community.

6- Allusion

Subtle allusions in the text give it literary resonance:

“If I saw an opportunity, I claimed it. And right now, sitting in my car, I see an opportunity. To honor her.”

The phrase “honor her” alludes to military traditions of honoring fallen soldiers, imbuing Hannah’s tragic story with a sense of nobility despite its bleak subject matter.

“Nowhere to go, it’s as if she’s disappeared. As if she was never really there.”

This echoes allusions in literature to ghostly souls who vanish, elevating Hannah’s absence to a poetic, haunting level.

Literary Devices Used In 13 Reasons Why
Literary Devices In 13 Reasons Why

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