Cassette 4: Sides A & B

Summary: Cassette 4: Side A

Running to Rosie’s, Clay is relieved to see that his mother’s car is not in the parking lot yet. He walks inside and sits at the counter, waiting (as Hannah instructed) before ordering. When Clay’s mother arrives with the rest of the tapes, he is relieved to see that they haven’t been tampered with. His mother can tell that he isn’t being entirely honest with her, but she doesn’t pry, instead just telling him to be careful and not to stay out too long. Clay puts the tapes that he has listed to back in the box and the final tape in his back pocket.

On the next tape, Hannah talks about her Peer Communications class and its teacher, Mrs. Baker. The class had open discussions about varied topics, such as bullies, drugs, and self-image. Mrs. Baker had set up paper bags for students to give each other anonymous compliments.

Tony arrives at the diner and asks Clay, “Is that my Walkman?” Clay says that he asked if he could borrow it while they were working on Tony’s car, and Tony replies that he must have been distracted and that he can borrow it for as long as he needs. 

Hannah says that although Zach didn’t leave anything mean in her compliment bag, what he did was worse. Clay wonders what Zach could have done since Zach is so shy that people don’t even gossip about him. Hannah resumes her story about being at the diner. As soon as Marcus left, Zach came over and sat next to her, and asked if she was okay. When Hannah didn’t respond, Zach eventually left. Hannah then heard Zach’s friends teasing him for not getting a date with Hannah.

Hannah then reveals that Zach stole the compliment notes from her bag. After her experience with Marcus, Hannah had cut her hair very short, something that people were likely to leave her notes about. (Hannah then points out that a sudden change in appearance is a suicide warning-sign—because she was changing the only thing she felt she had control over.) Hannah suspected Zach of stealing notes out of her bag after she saw him look in her bag after class. She set up her bag so it would fall to the floor if someone reached into it and she left a note addressed to Zach. After class, Zach knocked over the bag quickly left, embarrassed. In her note to Zach, Hannah admitted that she was at a point where she would have appreciated any kind of encouragement.

Clay remembers that the day that it happened, Hannah had yelled, “Why?” at Zach in the hall. Clay feels that he is starting to understand what Hannah was going through in her final months.

After the event with Zach stealing her notes, Hannah left a note in a paper bag that Mrs. Baker used for students to suggest class discussion topics. Hannah’s note read, “Suicide. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. Not too seriously, but I have been thinking about it.” Hannah says that Zach must have known that she had submitted the note when Mrs. Baker read it to the class the next day. When it came time for the class to discuss the note, Hannah noted that the students were annoyed by the topic. One of them said that whoever wrote the note just wants attention and that they would have signed the note if they were truly serious. At the end of the class, Mrs. Baker handed out a flyer called “The Warning Signs of a Suicidal Individual” that listed a sudden change in appearance as a key warning sign.

Clay looks over and sees Tony sitting in a nearby booth. Clay opens the Walkman and flips the tape.

Summary: Cassette 4: Side B

Hannah starts the next tape by asking if the listener would enjoy being able to hear other people’s thoughts. She says that abstract thoughts are one of her favorite features of poetry and that the tapes are a form of poetic therapy. She learned to appreciate poetry and the value of writing it from the same person, Ryan Shaver. 

Clay thinks about the summer that he and Hannah worked together. He liked talking to her when they were alone together, but he would pretend that they were not friends when others were around. Clay knows that this was due to Hannah’s reputation and his own insecurity, and now realizes that he does deserve to be on the tapes. Clay thinks that Hannah might still be alive if he had just worried less about what other people think and told Hannah that he cared about her.

Hannah started talking to Ryan Shaver after attending a poetry group at the public library. Ryan was the editor of Lost-N-Found Gazette, in which he printed various items found around the school, including love notes, pictures, or doodles, with any features identifying anyone removed. Hannah and Ryan shared poems and eventually trusted each other enough to trade poetry notebooks, each letting the other read all their poems. Clay suddenly realizes that a popular poem from the Lost-N-Found Gazette was written by Hannah.

Hannah explains that Ryan stole her notebook and printed the poem without her permission. She wrote the poem the same day as the group discussion of suicide in Mrs. Baker’s class. When Hannah and Ryan traded notebooks, he asked her about the poem. Ryan said that he thought it was about a boy who had overlooked her and that Hannah was questioning herself. Hannah became defensive but knew that Ryan was right. As Hannah describes Ryan’s interpretation of the poem and the boy who overlooked her, Clay thinks, “It’s me. God. It’s me. I know that now.”

Hannah reads the poem, “Soul Alone,” aloud for the listener. After the poem appeared in the Lost-N-Found Gazette, some of the English teachers, including Mr. Porter, had the students analyze it in class. Some students confronted Hannah, assuming that she wrote it, while others made parodies. Hannah expresses bewilderment over her innermost thoughts being ridiculed by her fellow students.

Thirty minutes before closing time at Rosie’s, Clay is the last customer in the diner. He saw Tony leave but suspects that he might still be outside in his car. The man behind the counter sees that Clay is under a great deal of emotional stress and offers him comforting words. Clay nods, switches the tape, and heads out the door.

Analysis: Cassette 4: Sides A & B

Hannah explores writing as a safe way to express her feelings, but she still lacks the ability to connect with others by openly sharing the writing. The paper-bag message system in peer communications class offers Hannah a safe way to share the thoughts she can’t say aloud. Hannah attempts to share her suicidal thoughts by writing a note, and her multiple drafts and inability to say the word suicide illustrate how difficult it is for her to be honest about her pain. Hannah perceives her classmates’ response as annoyance, which eliminates the class as a safe zone to share her feelings. Hannah’s small attempt and quick retreat prove how strongly the rumors are affecting her. Hannah next turns to poetry to express her emotions. She prefers poetry to therapy, noting that writing poetry makes her days better and costs less than actual therapy. However, unlike therapy, poetry doesn’t offer a connection to another person. When Ryan publishes Hannah’s poem, yet another safe space is destroyed for her. In retrospect, the listeners of the tapes can see how each act served to further erode Hannah’s trust in others.

Just as everyone has the ability to hurt others with one small action, they also have the ability to help. When Zach Dempsey steals Hannah’s encouraging notes from her bag in peer communications, the small action devastates Hannah. As the novel has shown before, each person affects those around them. Listening to Hannah’s tapes, Clay wonders who could have changed the course of Hannah’s life. Clay thinks about the accident he witnessed, showing that he’s beginning to observe the importance of personal impact in the world outside of school. While he wonders if anyone at the accident scene could have done something to save a life, he also questions whether he could have done some small thing to save Hannah’s life. Clay couldn’t see the depth of Hannah’s struggle until she walked him through it on the tapes, yet the man behind the counter at Rosie’s sees Clay’s struggle. The brief interaction shows a moment of connection and illustrates the important impact a person can have on someone else just by paying attention and having the courage to reach out.

When people aren’t honest about their feelings, they’re unable to form connections with others, leading to feelings of isolation and loneliness that can prove devastating. At Rosie’s, Clay’s mom suspects something is wrong, but since he lies and says that he’s working on a school project, she has no way of knowing that he’s struggling with Hannah’s story. His inability to state the truth deprives him of a connection with his mother, who could have offered him comfort and insight. When Zach gets upset that Hannah ignores him at the diner, he has no idea that she feels her life is falling apart. Since she thinks about it but feels incapable of saying it out loud, no one knows that Hannah is considering suicide. Telling her story on the tapes helps Hannah clarify her feelings and share an honest portrait of herself, but by the time the honesty reaches Clay’s ears, it’s too late for them to truly connect. Only after her death does Clay begin to understand Hannah. If they’d been able to talk honestly with each other about their feelings, Hannah and Clay’s story may have ended differently.