Hannah Baker

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Hannah Baker
Thirteen Reasons Why character
Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker.jpg
Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker
First appearance Novel:
"Cassette 1: Side A" (2007)
Television:
"Tape 1, Side A" (2017)
Last appearance Novel:
"Cassette 7: Side B" (2007)
Television:
“Bye” (2018)
Created by Jay Asher
Portrayed by Katherine Langford
Information
Gender Female
Occupation Student
Family Andy Baker (father)
Olivia Baker (mother)
Birthday August 28, 2000

Hannah Baker is a fictional character created by American author Jay Asher. She is the subject of his 2007 young adult fiction mystery novel Thirteen Reasons Why, which was adapted by the media company Netflix as 13 Reasons Why. Hannah is introduced as a sophomore at the fictional Liberty High School; she struggles to adjust to living in an unsympathetic school environment. In the television series, Hannah is portrayed by Australian actress Katherine Langford, who returned for the show's second season, which was released in 2018.[1]

13 Reasons Why received largely positive, though also polarizing, reviews from critics and audiences. Although critics were divided on several aspects of the show, in particular how it handled mental health and its depictions of rape and suicide, they praised Langford's performance. Langford later received a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance. She was catapulted to worldwide attention and was variously called "a revelation", "believable and raw", and "magnetic".[citation needed] Daniel Montgomery of the Gold Derby said she was an early frontrunner for an Emmy Award nomination.

Storyline (television series)[edit]

At the beginning of the series, 17-year-old schoolgirl Hannah Baker commits suicide by slitting her wrists—in the novel she swallows and overdoses on pills. Her school locker becomes a memorial adorned with students' letters and her pictures. On his doorstep, Hannah's friend Clay Jensen finds a box containing audio cassette tapes containing a recording of Hannah talking about the 13 reasons for her suicide. Clay listens to the first tape, on which Hannah narrates the events that led to her suicide. She talks about her first kiss with Justin Foley, who later spreads a rumour about their encounter. Justin's friend Bryce Walker forwards Hannah's private photograph from his phone to everyone at school, further embarrassing her. Clay recalls being rude to Hannah about her leaked photograph. Each subsequent tape reveals the thirteen reasons she killed herself. Hannah warns listeners to follow certain rules; everyone mentioned on the tapes must listen to the complete set then pass it along to the next person addressed. If they fail to do so, the second set of tapes, held by personal friend Tony, who is not on the tapes, will be released. Clay, who was secretly in love with Hannah, reminisces about the time he spent with her. He finds listening to Hannah's story difficult, but his friend Tony finds him and reveals he helped Hannah record the tapes and knows Clay is mentioned on them. He warns Clay things will go wrong if he does not obey the tapes.[2]

On the B side of the first tape, Hannah talks about her friendship with Jessica Davis and Alex Standall, who later start dating and stop hanging out with Hannah. When Alex breaks up with Jessica, she blames Hannah for the breakup and slaps her in public after Hannah told her "f*** you".[3] Alex is the subject of the A side of the second tape. In the present, Hannah's mother, Olivia Baker, finds the "hot or not" list, on which Hannah was voted as the "best ass", at her house, leading her to believe her daughter was being bullied. She seeks the school principal's help. Clay turns to Alex for answers and reveals that Alex made the list to get back at Jessica, who refused to have sex with him. What Alex did not know, is that his list has led to Hannah being touched by unknown boys sexually and finally being raped by Bryce.[4]

As Clay progresses through the tapes, he encounters the other people mentioned on Hannah's recordings. He discovers everyone on the tapes either took advantage of Hannah or abandoned her. Tyler Down, the school photographer, stalks Hannah and distributes a photograph of her and her only friend Courtney Crimsen, who reveals to be lesbian, kissing.[5] Afraid of her classmates discovering her sexuality, Courtney spreads a rumor that the girls in the leaked photos are Hannah and Laura, another lesbian classmate, and adds to the rumor about Hannah and Justin.[6] Marcus Cole humiliates Hannah in public,[7] and Zach Dempsey steals her class notes as revenge for her blaming and rejecting him.[8]

Hannah later joins a poetry club where she meets the student Ryan Shaver, who publishes her personal poem against her wishes in his school magazine "Lost'n Found".[9]In the present day, Tony confides in Clay about the night of Hannah's death. Hannah attends a party at Jessica's house; while hiding in Jessica's room, Hannah watches Bryce rape an unconscious and completely drunk Jessica, with Justin's consent.[10] Hannah is afraid to tell anyone and decides to leave. Sheri Holland, the subject of the next tape, offers Hannah a ride home but abandons her after crashing her car into a stop sign and refusing to report it, which later leads to the death of Jeff Atkins.[11]

Clay struggles to continue listening to Hannah's recordings, thinking he has let her down. He decides to return the tapes to Tony, who tells him he is the subject of the next tape. Clay hesitates to listen to "his" tape, but decides to continue.[12]

Hannah continues to talk about the night of Jessica's party. Hoping for a fresh start to the school year, she wants to admit to her feelings for Clay. The two spend most of the time together at the party and kiss in Jessica's room. Hannah is overwhelmed by the memories of her previous encounters with boys at school, which include Justin, Marcus and Zach. She screams at Clay and asks him to leave. Thinking he has provoked Hannah's breakdown, Clay leaves her alone in the room. Hannah witnesses Bryce raping Jessica. Hannah says though Clay does not deserve to be on the tapes, she could not have told her story without talking about him.

On the B side of tape 6, Hannah talks of "the most difficult day" of her life.In the present day, Olivia finds a list with all the names of the people on the tapes, but does not know the meaning behind them. The Bakers decide to file a lawsuit against the school and everyone on the list is subpoenaed. After accidentally losing her parent's deposits, which were supposed to go to the bank, she goes to a party at Bryce's house. Hannah unfortunately finds herself alone with Bryce, who proceeds to rape her. Her rape is the final event leading her to the decision to end her life.[13]

On the final tape, Hannah recalls the day of her suicide. She decides to give life "one more try" and visits school counselor Mr. Porter and asks for his help. She tells him about the rape but refuses to disclose her rapist's identity. Porter tells her to move on with life. Hannah leaves her uniform on the counter at the theatre before delivering the tapes to Tony. Hannah returns home, fills up her bathtub and slits her wrists with razors. Hannah dies of blood loss and is found by her parents, who attempt to save her by calling 911 but are too late.[14]

Development[edit]

Characterization[edit]

In the scenes where Clay remembers Hannah being alive, his world is full of bright and vibrant colours, but when he is brought back to a reality without Hannah in it, his world is much darker, full of harsher shades of blue and grey.

—Caitlin Hacker, writing on the use of different camera for filters depicting life before and after Hannah's death, Popsugar[15]

Asher's book was criticized for the poor characterization of Hannah Baker, which many critics said the television series improved upon.[16][17] In her book review for The Guardian, Katherine Hughes wrote that Hannah "comes across not so much as a young soul in distress as a vengeful harpy".[18] The character was inspired by one of Asher’s relatives, who had tried to commit suicide.[19]

At the beginning to the series, Hannah is a 16-year-old high school junior, "from a white picket fence town with an almost perfect family".[20] Noting the realism and relatability of the character with real-life people, Quinn Keaney of Popsugar wrote that Hannah, "is just like you ... like someone you know; she's smart, she has a bright future ahead of herself, she has loving parents, she just wants to be liked".[21] Variety's Maureen Ryan offered a similar observation on the realistic portrayal of teenagers, writing that the "darkness" in Hannah's life is "constantly interwoven with the natural resilience and questioning optimism of adolescence".[22] Writing for TVLine, Andy Swift described her as "a fresh-faced teen with a bright future",[23] while Sarah Hughes of The Daily Telegraph called her "smart, funny, beautiful, and sometimes awkward in that way that teenagers are".[24]

For most of the story, Hannah is characterized by her struggle adjusting to an unsympathetic school environment and her "desire to fit in" which "trumps everything".[24] Her mental health deteriorates as she is subjected to bullying, slut-shaming, and physical assaults.[25] Towards the end of the narrative, Hannah's meeting with Mr. Porter marks her complete descent into depression.[26] While some critics lauded the honest treatment, Lauren Hoffman of Cosmopolitan said the series is so "enamored with this idea of Hannah as someone who does things to others that it neglects to tell us who she is herself". She said it was a failure of "telling a story" and a missed opportunity to "undo stigma around mental illness".[27]

Although Hannah's story is mostly told by the use of voice-overs and flashbacks following her suicide,[28] her character is also viewed from the perspective of Clay Jensen.[29] In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Asher said, "Clay is also the eyes and ears for the reader. That’s the person you’re connecting with."[29] Elaborating on the use of the first-person narrative style, Joanna Robinson of Vanity Fair wrote, "Clay's romantic treatment of Hannah as an unattainable dream girl", and that the idea undergoes some "smart and nuanced scrutiny"; so much so that it leads to a need for an assessment of his complicity in Hannah's death.[30] Vox's Constance Grady, who described Hannah as "attractively damaged but secretly pure, sarcastic but unthreatening [sic]", also acknowledged the connection between Clay and Hannah and wrote that the series heavily depended upon "a secret connection" between the two. [31] She said Langford's performance preserves the character's "wide-eyed vulnerability".[31]

Casting and filming[edit]

Series producer Selena Gomez (pictured) was originally to play Hannah in a film adaptation of the novel.

Hannah Baker was played by Katherine Langford on the television series;[32] her first major acting credit. The show's director Tom McCarthy, script-writer Brian Yorkey, and the executive producer Selena Gomez selected Langford following a Skype audition. Yorkey called the casting process especially hard because of the extra effort needed to match the actor with the visions of the novel's readers. Speaking with James Gill of the Radio Times, he expressed his satisfaction on the casting of Langford and Dylan Minnette as the leading duo, and said, "It was well worth it, because it was about finding two people who could not only portray Hannah and Clay but really understand at a deep level what their journey is".[33]

Universal Studios purchased film rights to Asher's novel on February 8, 2011, and Gomez began the process of casting the role of Hannah Baker.[34] On October 29, 2015, it was announced that Netflix would be making a television adaptation of the book, with Gomez as an executive producer.[35] Tom McCarthy was hired to direct the first two episodes.[36] The series is produced by Anonymous Content and Paramount Television with Gomez, McCarthy, Joy Gorman, Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Mandy Teefey, and Kristel Laiblin serving as executive producers.[36] Filming for the show took place in the Northern Californian towns of Vallejo, Benicia, San Rafael, Crockett and Sebastopol during the summer of 2016.[37][38] The first season and the special were released on Netflix on March 31, 2017.[39]

Reception[edit]

Critical response and analysis[edit]

The character has received polarized responses from television critics and mental health analysts, but was well received by the readers and audiences. Katherine Langford garnered acclaim for her performance in the television series and was variously called "a revelation", "believable and raw" and "magnetic".[32][40] Jesse Schedeen of IGN praised her performance stating, "Langford shines in the lead role [and] embodies that optimism and that profound sadness [of Hannah's] as well".[41] Daniel Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter praised Langford's "dynamic" performance and wrote, "Langford's heartbreaking openness makes you root for a fate you know isn't possible".[42] Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe praised the chemistry of Langford and Minnette, saying, "watching these two young actors together is pure pleasure".[43] Schedeen of IGN agreed, saying the lead actors are "often at their best together, channeling just the right sort of warm but awkward chemistry you'd expect from two teens who can't quite admit to their feelings for one another".[41]

References[edit]

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