Season 2 of Netflix's adaptation of 13 Reasons Why started off on a sentimental note thanks to a scene that shows the series' protagonist, Clay Jensen (Dylan Minnette), getting inked with a tattoo of a semicolon. To some, it may seem like a subtle tribute to the commonly misused form of punctuation, but it actually has a deeper meaning.
Grammatically speaking, semicolons are generally used to mark pauses in a sentence, and while you probably didn't come here for a grammar lesson, suffice to say that you can use a semicolon in a sentence as an alternative to ending with a period. Because of this, the symbol has become linked to mental health awareness and suicide prevention throughout the years; it's an analogy for those who could have ended their lives but ultimately chose not to.
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The concept was created by Amy Bleuel, founder of Project Semicolon, a nonprofit organization that encourages people to draw and/or permanently tattoo semicolons on their bodies to show support for those struggling with mental health issues such as depression, addiction, suicide, and self-harm. Bleuel launched Project Semicolon in 2013, 10 years after losing her father to suicide.
"I started it to honor my father," she told USA TODAY back in 2015. "And to tell my story of my struggle with mental illness."
According to The Washington Post, Bleuel had three semicolon tattoos of her own: One for her father, one for her best friend who was going through a tough time during the founding of Project Semicolon, and one for herself on her left arm.
Bleuel committed suicide in March 2017, though the community over at Project Semicolon is still committed to carrying on their founder's legacy through educating the world about suicide prevention and eradicating the stigmas associated with mental illnesses.
Six years after its inception, Bleuel's campaign has remained widely popular, and it even inspired 13 Reasons Why executive producer, Selena Gomez, to get a semicolon tattoo of her own along with two of the show's cast members, Alisha Boe and Tommy Dorfman. The three of them got matching semicolon tattoos last year as a way to celebrate the first season's success, while also supporting the show's overall message.
"Today was a magical day. Another day to be grateful to be alive," Dorfman wrote on Instagram. "Alisha, Selena, and I went together to get ; tattoos. The ; symbol stands for an end of one thought and a beginning of another. Instead of a period, authors use the semicolon to continue a sentence. For us, it means a beginning of another chapter in life, in lieu of ending your life."
Clay's semicolon tattoo also features some meta-symbolism, considering he attempted to get the tattoo in Season 2's first episode before fainting in the tattoo parlor and walking out with just a comma. After a long and emotionally traumatizing season, he was finally able to finish the tattoo off in the season finale, just after he and Hannah's (Katherine Langford) parents teamed up to plan a funeral and a wake for his late friend. Clay's putting the finishing touches on his tattoo in episode 13 puts on permanent display the closure he was finally able to find in the months following Hannah's death, as well as the beginning of a brand new chapter for himself and his new friends at Liberty High now that the legal case Hannah's parents started against the school is over.
His tattoo may be merely the result of a talented makeup department, but the story behind it carries a powerful meaning that's worth remembering as you make your way through the second season.
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