I first heard about the series Thirteen Reasons Why from my students whilst I was teaching English in Sicily, and one of the very first things I learnt about it, before even knowing about the plot, was that Selena Gomez was the executive producer. Growing up watching Selena Gomez on the Wizards of Waverly Place and starring in Princess Protection Program film, I couldn’t help but feel like this series would be sprinkled with a touch of ‘Disney-star-trying-to-grow-up’. In the end I decided to watch the series, approaching with the attitude of ‘you can’t judge until you’ve seen it for yourself’ and I was actually pleasantly surprised to be so captivated by everything from the script, to the directing style, and the actors’ and actresses’ performances.
Whilst the series definitely had a more ‘modern’ touch, I couldn’t help but feel like the storyline was one as old as a time. The demoralisation of an individual, malicious acts, coupled with the perhaps seemingly harmless ‘unkind’ actions that cut deeper than expected, all sound like the base plot for any allegory about restoring altruism in humanity. So where had I seen this all before? Back in my GCSE English Language class of course, studying J.B Priestley’s An Inspector Calls.
Not only does Tony’s character fit the bill of the Inspector’s role, seemingly just as enigmatic and mysterious as ‘Inspector Goole’, and sent of behalf of Hannah to torment the conscience of the other characters, but also the strong resemblance between the two main female characters, builds for a streamline correspondence between the two texts.
Hannah Baker, just like Eva Smith, does not appear onstage in the ‘real time’ of the narrative, but rather both are absent figures around whom the action of the narratives revolves. The protagonists are both subjected to mistreatment at the hands of others, and although the realities and setting of the narratives are widely different (Eva Smith is an unmarried, working class woman in the 1912 and Hannah Baker is the unpopular, new girl at high school in the 21st century), they both unfold through their ‘diaries’ (in Hannah’s case, in the form of a tape collection). Both women have been drastically let down by society, so much so, that they feel that their last resort is to commit suicide. It is no surprise then that the theme of ‘responsibility’ is central to both narratives, and the dangerous repercussions of not upholding our social responsibility we have to one another is exhibited in both texts. Throughout the course of the stories unfolding, it becomes increasingly clear that the characters act as a microcosm of the people in society who change and those who don’t, and so both women serve the ultimate overriding purpose of embodying the lessons which each of the guilty parties must learn individually.
“One Eva Smith has gone– but there are millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, with what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.” (An Inspector Calls)
Essentially, the underlying lesson to be learnt in both pieces is one and the same, and one which is highly important, irrespective of time: not assuming our social responsibility towards one another can ruin an individual’s life. Eva and Hannah die because no one takes responsibility for their actions against them. Just as the Inspector’s final speech is not only directed to the characters, but also to the audience, we too are expected to reflect and learn that our each and every single action, no matter how big or small, has a consequence and potentially, a repercussion.