Will's difficulty adjusting to life with a disability comes from two intertwined sources. One is the pain, discomfort, and frustration inherent in his condition. The other comes not from within his body but from outside it: he is frustrated by the way others treat him, both by acting condescendingly towards him and by failing to consider the small ways in which he is inconvenienced by such things as turnstiles and stairs. At times, these two elements of life with a disability combine and converge, so that it is difficult to tell which one is at play; often, the answer is both. When Will is surrounded by people like Lou, who treat him as they would a non-disabled person, he feels less burdened, but he also is sometimes overtaken by pain or sickness that makes it impossible for him to enjoy life. While Will is the only disabled character who makes a physical appearance in these pages, the book introduces a rush of quadriplegic voices through Lou's use of an online forum. One at a time, these characters speak to the trials and joys of living with disability, and describe the diverse range of ways that they deal with their own. While Will deals with his by pushing Lou to do the things he can no longer enjoy, others cite religious faith, a positive attitude, and romantic partnerships.
Lou's cautious personality at the start of the novel is not merely a result of her own choices, but stems in part from the tenuousness of her material situation. For instance, because she must make a steady income for her family and has no time to take breaks from working, Lou cannot risk taking a job in a field she feels passionately about. Her relationship with Patrick is informed by a desire for stability, and she often resents Treena, feeling that she has had to work in order to support Treena's education and family. In these ways and countless others, Moyes explores how money and class seep into every aspect of life—even the most personal. However, money does not solve all problems in this book. Afforded freedom and privacy because of their vast wealth, the Traynors are often cold and awkward with one another. Moreover, wealth cannot cure Will's disability, though it can ease the inconvenience it causes. In fact, Moyes weaves themes of class and disability together, showing how Will and Lou struggle in different realms and provide for one another what the other lacks.
"Me Before You" uses a variety of male characters, but in particularly Will and Patrick, to explore the question of what men "should" act and look like and to interrogate the expectations placed on them. Many people think of Will as less masculine because he is disabled. This is often expressed through infantilizing behavior as well as jokes about his sexual deficiencies. Before his accident, however, Will was able to live a stereotypically masculine lifestyle, dating beautiful women and making money as a businessman. Importantly, while Will enjoyed some of these activities, he later believes himself to have been "an arse," and considers his relationship with the beautiful Alicia to have been meaningless. The working-class Patrick does not have the same opportunities Will has had, but because he is able-bodied, he aspires to an ideal of male athleticism and fitness. This passion begins to seem unhealthy after a while, since it consumes his entire life, but Patrick seems to fear that he will become less masculine—more like the emasculated Will—if he does not work constantly to become fitter.
Lou is traumatized by the memory of her sexual assault inside the castle maze, but the effects of the experience are amplified and worsened because of the shame she feels. She explicitly recalls that the assault ended her period of fearlessness and now leaves her feeling stuck and afraid. This is particularly true because the assault occurred during a period of social, sexual, and intellectual experimentation for her. She believes that these actions placed her in a vulnerable position, and therefore feels that she should resist experimentation and adventure in the future, since she might risk her safety again. In other words, this novel breaks down the complicated emotional aftermath of trauma, and lets us see Lou work through that aftermath so that she can be fearless again even while acknowledging horrors in her past.
From the moment Lou notices the scars on Will's wrist, suicide becomes the taboo topic in the background of this book. As the plot progresses, it moves into the foreground. Though she does not answer the question definitively, Moyes urges us to think about the ethics of suicide. Who gets to decide when a person dies? Does someone like Will, who no longer wants to live, have a right to choose when his life ends? Or is he wrong for making his loved ones grieve him, not to mention bring him to Dignitas? Moyes offers a nuanced view of the issue, presenting a huge variety of opinions on and feelings about it. Some visitors to Lou's chatroom are insulted by the implication that life with a disability is not worth living, while one user believes that the trials of Will's life entitle him to make his own decision about how to live and die. Nathan shares this view, though he does so from the perspective of a nurse rather than that of a quadriplegic person. Lou's mother feels passionately that the taking of a life is unacceptable, while Will's family members, and Lou herself, reluctantly accept rather than endorse assisted suicide out of respect for Will. The media, meanwhile, sensationalizes the issue, painting those who allow their loved ones to choose suicide as heartless. Though Will decides without any equivocation to end his life, he does so with the acknowledgment that his choice causes pain to others, and Moyes leaves readers to decide for themselves how they feel about the topic.
Culture, Travel and Exploration
Lou, at the beginning of the novel, is closed off to new experiences and new places for several reasons. One is that the trauma of her sexual assault makes her afraid to leave her comfort zone. Another is that the practical limitations of her socioeconomic class make highbrow cultural experiences and travel difficult. When Lou does start to explore new art forms, new countries, and new relationships, though, she feels enormously rewarded. She is able to do so largely because Will dares her to, and because he has the resources to provide these experiences. "Me Before You" portrays live music, travel, and education as important opportunities that offer healing and freedom to those who take them. Still, Moyes shows that these experiences often require money, and that they can feel alienating and daunting to people who do not come from upper-class backgrounds. The value of these cultural experiences exists in tension with their unattainability and exclusivity.
Romance and Sexuality
When Lou's family members hear about Will's disability, they imagine that he will be unable to have sex, and, furthermore, that he will be devoid of sexual desire or attractiveness. This doesn't end up happening, since Lou is very attracted to him, and he to her. Though they don't have sex, and Moyes implies that this would be impossible for them, their experiences together often verge on sexual and involve a great deal of touch and proximity. Tragically, Lou and Patrick are able to have sex but are not particularly attracted to one another. The same is true of the romantic attraction between the characters. Will and Lou fall in love, though their romance is impractical, given Will's determination not to live on. Lou and Patrick's relationship survives precisely because it is so practical and so expected: they come from the same social class, have been dating long enough that their eventual marriage feels inevitable, and ostensibly want similar things in the future. In this book, romantic and sexual attraction rarely align with long-term plans or practical sense. In fact, the novel as a whole implies that this is what makes romantic love important: it challenges those who feel it to rethink their expectations.
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...