13 Reasons Why is the hottest thing on Netflix right now. The show, based on the book of the same name, tackles the subject of teen suicide and the specific reasons why the protagonist, Hannah, chose to take her own life.
I WIll BE TALKING ABOUT POINTS FROM SERIES 1 EPISODE 8 SO POTENTIAL MINOR SPOILERS BELOW
In the show, Hannah attends poetry readings to help express herself, she writes a poem which is selfishly published in a school magazine by another student. The poem in the Netflix series is not the same poem from the book. It is longer with a slightly different focus. Below is the poem written by Hannah, (Penned for the show by New York based poet Sarah Kay) along with my annotations.
The first thing that stood out to me was the poems structure. It is free form and reads like the author is conversing with herself. She is allowing her thoughts to escape her mind but she is analysing each one as it does. The poem starts with “Today” which puts us in the present, at least for the author, this reinforces the idea of this being a running commentary of self-analysis. It is instantly followed up by the sexual imagery of ‘black lace’, and the affirmation that the sexuality exists only because the author wills it. This however, proves to become more untrue as the poem continues.
The theme of sexuality, and exploitation is a driving force for the poem. The statement “You just want to hear about what my fingers do in the dark” suggests a battle for existence and acceptance, without being hindered by the desires of others, who see her as only an object, or sexual being. This is further reinforced when she likens herself to the “ground.” She accommodates the “well” which provides the satisfaction in the form of “water” but that is all she believes she is perceived as. The author does not see herself in this way though, she sees her fragility and questions the intentions of others, likening them to animals. “You are licking your lips and baring your teeth.” The licking of the lips denotes a sexual act again but this line signifies the animalistic nature of humanity, more specifically canines. It is safe to say that this is supposed to represent wolves; hungry and on the hunt. This metaphor is particularly potent because of the mentality of the animal in question; wolves hunt in packs and using the wider knowledge of the show this is symbolic to the way in the author feels attacked by the popular ‘jocks’. She has not been wronged just by an individual but has been preyed on by a large group of people. The wolf comparison can also be seen to mirror more familiar stories such as ‘Little red riding hood’ which also suggests a loss of childlike innocence, reinforced by the earlier references to a “jungle-gym” and the “story.”
The second and more prevalent theme is the struggle for identity. In the second line in the poem, the author tells us she acts for herself, this may be true but she follows it up instantly by exposing to the reader exactly who she believes she is; “I am absolutely naked.” This is more than skin deep, it at first feels like a sly joke at the expense of those who have sexualised her, but it speaks more of how fragile she is emotionally. She is emotionally weak and she worries that she makes it too visible. “Like Saran Wrap that you can see through to what leftovers are inside from the night before.” The author wears her heart on her sleeve and she knows that what she does or thinks to herself in isolation does not stop there, she is transparent and exposed to those around her. Despite this the author understands that she is human, the repetition of “Skin” reaffirms her mortality and the sibilance of “skin is soft, and smooth, and easily scarred” shows her frailties and the limitations, she feels, of being alive. This is the first point where self-harm is hinted at.
From the first few lines of the poem we can see a deep melancholy within the mind of the author but it is not until the poem progresses that we see the damaging effects of her depressed state of mind, “but what if all they do is crack open windows? So I can see lightning through the clouds.” This is destructive imagery, firstly to crack a window suggests fragility again. She does not open the window with conviction instead she has to be careful, she opens up enough just to get a glimpse of beauty. The “lightning through the clouds” is a very telling sentence. Contrasting the silver lining usually looked for behind clouds, the author instead sees lightning, a powerful force, but not one of good, rather a violent and destructive thing. This is a perfect metaphor for the mind of the author, she has dark clouds prohibiting her from feeling but if the clouds clear too much there is certainly disaster.
The final six lines of the poem could be the most important in analysing the emotions of the author, “How many circles can I walk in before I give up looking?” This question is important; throughout the poem the author has posed a series of rhetorical questions that exist only to reinforce her own view of herself. This one however seems genuine, she is showing signs that she is looking for an escape but is unable to do so. Her destination, happiness, is unclear to her and thus she cannot navigate towards it, she continues in a cycle of depression. The next feeling conveyed from the author is a fear of becoming indistinguishable. The use of “drowning” shows that the author knows she is out of her depth in her suffering and it is beginning to define who she is, “It must be possible to swim without becoming water.” The author feels as though the more she wallows in her mental instability the more she becomes it, and the further away she drags herself from society the more she will fade in to the background, thus becoming insignificant.
In conclusion, the poem is a deep exploration of the authors slip into depression and her outcry against the torment she is suffering. It shows a fractured mind that has been exploited, sexually and emotionally, and how she is coming to terms with that. The poem is rife with violent and destructive imagery and suggestions of self-harm, but it does not overtly express suicidal thoughts, an issue of contention within the programme itself. It is a powerful and moving piece that explores the darkest corners of the authors psyche which she bears with brutal honesty.
What did you think of ‘13 Reasons Why?’ Did you enjoy the poem? Do you agree with my analysis? Let me know in the comments below.