“Clay, Helmet… your name doesn’t belong on this list but you need to be here if I’m going to tell my story.” Clay acts as the protagonist for 13 Reasons Why and his listening of the tapes paints the vivid memories leading up to Hannah Baker’s suicide. Clay is worlds apart from the popular jocks and various other characters of Liberty High.
Clay is in his senior year at the school, he is portrayed as your average teenager. Clay is of a slender build, he has dark hair and is often seen sporting a dark coloured hoodie. I feel in any other setting Clay would simply be a face in the crowd as there is nothing that overly stands out about him. On one fateful afternoon after returning from school he discovers a package which will ultimately change his life forever.
Clay’s character is portrayed in such a way that makes him highly relatable. He’s far from good with girls, he’s a little socially awkward at times… he’s a teenager, he’s still figuring everything out. When you place Clay amongst his counterparts such as Justin Foley who oozes confidence or Zachary Dempsey who is very athletic; it is not hard to see how Clay might be unmemorable to girls like Hannah Baker.
“I’m about to tell you the story of my life, more specifically why my life ended and if you’re listening to this tape you’re one of the reasons why.” This chilling revelation in just the first episode immediately tells us that Clay has some involvement in the death of Hannah and the series of tapes leading up to Clay’s tape leave us guessing: Why is Clay on the tapes?
The relationship between Hannah and Clay is gradually built upon episode by episode. The two worked together at the Crestmont Theatre and this was where much of the socialising between the two would take place. It doesn’t take very long, the first tape to be precise, for us as the audience to become aware that Clay has a crush on Hannah. Hannah is beautiful and Clay is surrounded by a pageantry of ego and vanity, he lacks the confidence his peers possess. I can only imagine that Clay is highly relatable to many teenagers or even adults alike who lack the confidence to talk to the person they have a crush on. I have found myself in his situation all too many times as I talk to a crush and all the words I want to come out just won’t.
What we see in Clay that we don’t necessarily see in all of his classmates is acceptance of accountability. The Liberty High students are in denial, they continue about their every day school life though they have already heard of their influence on Hannah’s fate. Clay is tape 11, and the tapes were distributed in chronological order. The subject of tape 1, Justin Foley, has heard all 13 tapes. Jessica Davis, tape 2, she’s heard all 13 tapes. Everyone before tape 11 has heard them yet they continue to go about their business knowing not only what they had done but also what their classmates had done.
Clay, whilst listening to the tapes gradually, wants to make sense of them. He continuously questions and pries, much to the displeasure of the others involved. In episode 4 we see Clay become judge, jury and executioner when he takes an indecent image of Tyler Down and sends it to his classmates in a bit to exact the same treatment Tyler had subjected Hannah to. It is not the only time Clay would go against the grain, he would subject Courtney to a harsh form of justice in the following episode. Clay is clearly struggling to come to terms of the loss of his friend and he is intent on getting to the bottom of why Hannah killed herself.
Through his character development we see Clay as someone who is caring and attentive to the needs of others. In flashbacks, we see Clay tutoring Jeff Atkins, a former student who is struggling with his grades. This tutoring is never fleshed out so it’s not clear whether that was a choice of Clay’s or a school requirement but the two do appear to be friends. In a later scene, Clay offers to tutor Sheri Holland which would suggest Jeff was potentially another good will gesture on Clay’s part.
Clay’s character is never portrayed as completely ‘innocent’ but in comparison to others he certainly carried less burden in relation to Hannah’s death. Generally, I’d say Clay is quite a likable character. He accepts responsibility for his actions, he even exclaims “I cost a girl her life because I was too afraid to love her.” Clay is ultimately the second narrator, he tells Hannah’s story through his experience but his moral code is something you’d expect to resonate with most of the audience.
I could write about Clay’s involvement in the series seamlessly but as opposed to the other characters he’s not necessarily as difficult to figure out. He’s just your average teenager going through high school. Clay is nothing but relatable.