"I don't know..." I thought of the photograph. "They looked like they were really happy together." Then again, what did a photograph prove? I had a framed photograph at home where I was beaming at Patrick like he had just pulled me from a burning building, yet in reality I had just called him an "utter dick" and he had responded with a hearty, "Oh, piss off!"
The photographs on display in Will's room portray him in happier days, going on adventures with friends and girlfriends. Lou momentarily assumes that Will's relationship with Alicia was a happy one because the photograph she finds of them seems to show them in a moment of happiness, but then considers that photographs don't always tell the whole truth. This realization is particularly important because Alicia herself is adept at projecting an air of perfection, making it difficult to understand her life based on images. Since the photograph tells an incomplete story about Will's former life, making things look less complicated than they are, we can also assume that Will's life before the accident might not be as perfect as he often remembers it being. This quote also gives one of the first hints that Lou and Patrick's relationship is far from perfect, and that it might in fact be headed the same way as Will and Alicia's.
Will is not the easiest person to be around at the moment, Miss Clark. This job is going to be about mental attitude as much as any ... professional skills you might have.
This statement from Mrs. Traynor offers us a preview of Will's situation before we meet him and conveys a great deal, rather subtly, about Mrs. Traynor's own mindset and concerns. The understatement she uses to explain that her very depressed son is "not the easiest person" creates suspense, causing us to wonder just how difficult Lou's new employer is going to be. It also reveals Mrs. Traynor's tendency to act secretive and restrained. She speaks in vague, euphemistic language, unwilling to betray her own strong emotions. The quote also signals to us that Lou's job is going to be about building a relationship with Will rather than just offering him daily assistance. This foreshadows the unprecedented relationship that blooms between them, but also lays the groundwork for our later discovery that Mrs. Traynor is trying to stave off her son's suicidal tendencies by finding him a companion.
"You would have been far too busy looking at the tall blonde girls with the endless legs and the big hair, the ones who can smell an expense account at forty paces. And anyway, I wouldn't have been here. I would have been serving the drinks over there. One of the invisibles."
In this moment of dialogue, Lou explicitly talks to Will about the class differences that once divided them. These differences are clear from their first meeting, but this moment stands out because it marks how comfortable Lou and Will have become discussing their own pasts with one another. Their relationship is still marked by class difference, of course. Will's wealthy family pays Lou, who has only been invited to the wedding they are at because she is a care worker for a rich guest. However, Lou is able to voice this observation to Will without fear that she will offend him or face professional consequences. Furthermore, Lou notes, the difference between Will's former life and his life now is not his social class but his personality and attitude. Whereas he once would have only paid attention to the wealthy and conventionally attractive wedding guests, he now feels little attachment to this group and is more emotionally invested in the working-class woman by his side.
"Then he brought down his baton and suddenly everything was pure sound. I felt the music like a physical thing; it didn’t just sit in my ears, it flowed through me, around me, made my senses vibrate. It made my skin prickle and my palms dampen. Will hadn’t described any of it like this. I had thought I might be bored. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard."
Before meeting Will, Lou doesn't consider herself to be a particularly artistic or cultured person. There are any number of reasons for this, all amply described throughout the novel. For one thing, Lou doesn't believe she has the financial leeway to pursue interests like classical music. For another, the traumas of her past have made her feel that she must prioritize safety and cannot risk emotionally intense experiences. With this vivid description, Lou's attitude suddenly changes. She describes a sudden awareness of the capacity of music and art to induce changes in both the mind and the body, and suddenly seems to realize that new experiences, while they can be frightening, are simply too beautiful to be avoided any longer. The quote also mentions Will, who, as Lou notes, has failed to fully convey the experience of hearing an orchestra to her. This shows that Will is a kind of guide for Lou, bringing her into potentially alienating but exciting places, so that even if he cannot fully describe or provide an experience for her himself he can show her the way to these rewarding new interests.
"Some mistakes ... just have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let that night be the thing that defines you."
Will voices this opinion to Lou in the midst of their deepest and most revealing conversation yet, after Lou has told Will about her sexual assault. Because Lou has long blamed herself for this traumatic experience, she has been afraid of taking risks or planning for her future, unwilling to jeopardize her safety again. Will reassures her that she bears no blame for what has happened to her, but then goes further. He acknowledges that Lou might have made very minor mistakes, but makes a point that people make mistakes every day, and that the terrible results are often coincidental. This has particular resonance because of the unpredictable, coincidental circumstances leading to Will's life-changing injury. He seems to be reassuring both Lou and himself of the fact that fateful consequences can follow meaningless decisions without any logic. Will then reassures Lou that, in spite of the fact that truly terrible consequences did occur for her in the maze, she should still be willing to take risks and live a meaningful life. By outwardly absolving her of her feelings of guilt, Will frees Lou to continue trying new things and to live without fear or shame.
I am the one in the family who knows everything. I read more than anyone else. I go to university. I am the one who is supposed to have all the answers. But I looked at my big sister, and I shook my head. ‘I haven’t got a clue,’ I said.
Treena has a reputation within her family for being clever and worldly, and though Lou sometimes resents the opportunities she gets as a result, Lou also turns to her sister when she is in need of advice and knowledge. Treena, for her part, is not arrogant, but she has faith in her own intelligence and rarely wavers on an opinion. In this case, however, we see that the sisters have achieved a strange equality. Without intending to, Lou has stumbled into a situation that has made her more worldly, more knowledgeable, and more introspective. In fact, at its height, her new life demands powers of judgment that elude even Treena. Lou, it seems, has taken a more unpredictable path to discover that she is just as capable as her sister. In this particular case, of course, neither sister has an answer, because the enormity of Lou's grief is simply beyond the capacity of any person, regardless of intellect, to resolve. This lets us know that, while Lou has gained confidence and might go on to challenge herself in new and exciting ways, she will probably never be able to fully understand what has driven Will to make the choice he does.
We SCIs know that very little is under our control—who feeds us, dresses us, washes us, dictates our medication. Living with that knowledge is very hard.
So I think you are asking the wrong question. Who are the AB to decide what our lives should be?
Some of the most thought-provoking words in this book are delivered, not by a fully-fledged character, but by a mysterious stranger in a chatroom who goes only by the username "GForce." Lou is seeking advice on how to make Will want to live, and encounters in GForce an unexpected, unwanted answer: don't. We already know that the thing Will seems to hate the most about his disability is the lack of control it leaves him with, particularly since others tend to discount his wishes and try to make decisions on his behalf. For the first time, in this quote, someone frames Will's desire to commit suicide as an issue of autonomy. The speaker here (who is, in fact, not speaking but writing) also asks Lou to confront her own well-meaning but privileged position in the situation. As an AB, or able-bodied person, she faces neither the physical restrictions nor the discrimination that Will faces, and therefore exerts imbalanced power over him by pressuring him to stay alive. Lou doesn't believe that GForce is right, but she does have to contend with the paradox that they point out: if she wants to treat Will as her equal, she must give him the dignity of choosing his own death.
"He can’t do what he used to. But his life is precious. Just as Will’s is precious."
Lou's mother rarely gets angry, but she is overtaken by a steely rage when Lou decides to fly to Switzerland for Will's last moments. The reasons she gives are varied: she believes her daughter to be less mature than she is in reality, and worries that she will be haunted by guilt after. Fundamentally, though, her belief comes down to what she says in this quote. Mrs. Clark feels that life needs to be protected at all costs, even if the person in question would prefer not to be alive. It is this strict moral stance that makes Mrs. Clark put her foot down in spite of her love for Lou. Though the strong reaction is a surprise, it is, in a way, consistent with what we have already seen of this character. She is deeply caring, protecting her elderly father and young grandson against the threats of aging and financial ruin. The "he" she references in this quote is her own father, and the comparison she makes between him and Will points to another reason that she may feel so strongly: she feels responsible for the continued safety of her father, in spite of his vulnerabilities, and is distressed by the idea of a sick person's life being treated as a burden.
‘He pointed me to this new research in Canada that says muscles can be trained to remember former activity. If you get them working enough, every day, it’s like a brain synapse—it can come back. I bet you if we hooked you up with a really good regime, you could see a difference in your muscle memory. After all, Lou tells me you were quite the action man before.’
This quote epitomizes Patrick's belief that the body can and should be controlled. Patrick tends not to actually enjoy his own body's abilities, since he is uninterested in both sex and eating. Instead, he tends to feel that his body exists in order to be optimized so that it can compete with others. Therefore he exercises obsessively, eats precisely what is needed to make his body more athletic, and has sex only in order to prove that he is able to. Since he believes so strongly in the value of having a high-performing body, the intuitive way for him to express kindness towards Will is to offer him tips on becoming more athletic and able-bodied. Will's disability is completely incurable, so the best thing he can offer his body is maintenance and comfort, which is incomprehensible to Patrick. There is also an undertone of competitiveness in this passage—while he is on one level offering to help Will, he is also reminding their tablemates of Will's disability and how his body compares to Patrick's own fit one.
"I was not the kind of person this happened to. Or at least, I thought I wasn’t. My life was a fairly structured one—an ordinary one, by modern standards."
This quotation, which comes from Camilla's own narration, encapsulates one of the novel's messages: that life is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Camilla has spent much of her life seeking a sense of control, especially in her career, where she acted according to the belief that individuals have control over their own actions. Her life has always been "structured," since she believes that life is best lived by following a plan. While Will's life is upended by the unpredictable event of his accident, Camilla's is not to the same degree. Instead, it is her son's desire to commit suicide that truly destroys her sense of control over her own life, because it challenges her black-and-white moral code and her belief that anybody can live a moral life if they try. Suddenly, forced either to let her son die or watch him suffer, Camilla's structured life falls apart. This quote is also revealing because it shows that Camilla, an extremely wealthy person whose life has not been ordinary by the standards of most working-class people, believes herself to be entirely average. Throughout this book, characters are forced out of their comfort zones and come to understand that the lives to which they are accustomed may not be considered normal by everyone else. At this early point in the novel, Camilla has not yet come to that understanding, and still lacks the self-awareness to realize that she lives an unusually comfortable life.
"I’m not really telling you to jump off tall buildings, or swim with whales or anything (although I would secretly love to think you were), but to live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Wear those stripy legs with pride."
This section of Will's letter to Lou—written to be read after his death—express the dynamic of their relationship as well as the primary message of the book as a whole. Will tells Lou to "live boldly" and embrace risk and experience, as he has already encouraged her to do. However, he takes care to tell her that this doesn't mean she has to do dangerous, expensive, or showy things. Rather, Will clarifies, he wants Lou to live in a way that is expressive of her personality and her passions. The light tone with which Will delivers this advice shows his intention to avoid upsetting Lou, but also is a good representation of their relationship. They encourage one another to confront fear head-on, but ease those experiences with humor and kindness.
Me Before You Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Me Before You is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Will Traynor is a quadriplegic, who led a life full of excitement and adventure prior to his injury- he worked a high profile job in finance, and enjoyed travel and extreme sports. After being injured in a motorcycle accident he became a recluse...