In our eyes, there are two ways to look at the title of this sucker.
First, we can think of Me Before You as "what I was before I met you." That's what the book is about to a large degree: the different person Lou becomes after she meets Will.
But we can also think of it as "putting myself before you." Will certainly does this, choosing to go through with assisted suicide despite his growing relationship with Lou. We can also see this dynamic to a lesser degree with Lou, as she slowly comes to put her own needs and desires before those of other people, at least when it is right to do so.
There's also the idea that one of the characters is heading off to the other side before the other one does—but oh dear, we're going to need some more Kleenex now…
The novel has two endings, the first of which is a bummer, and the second of which is a bummer with a silver lining. That's the best we're going to get, folks.
Ultimately—spoiler alert—Will decides to go through with his assisted suicide. Lou is furious when she learns this—especially because it comes right after her declaration of love for him—but she eventually relents and accompanies him to Dignitas despite the protestations of her mother. This is a big moment on two levels: it shows that Lou is willing to be there for Will even if she disagrees with his decision, and it also shows that Lou is not going to let her family control her actions as they always have.
The epilogue finds Lou in a Paris café, which brings to mind a conversation she had with Will earlier in the novel, when Will told her that Paris was his favorite place on the planet. And it turns out that Will directly requested that Lou go to Paris: he gave her a letter saying that it should only be opened in a Paris café, accompanied by coffee and croissants. He wants to make her start really living her life.
The letter covers a lot of stuff, but the gist is that Will knows that Lou will be a better person for their relationship, even if it causes her pain right now. To that end, he leaves her a small amount of money that will allow her to fund her schooling.
In the closing moment of the novel, Lou gets up and heads "off down the street toward the parfumerie and the whole of Paris and beyond" (e.32). This represents the most important way that Will has changed Lou: she is now eager to explore the world without letting fear control her. That's a priceless gift.
Prior to the events of Me Before You, Lou Clark never thought she'd spend much time away from her tiny English hometown. By the end of the novel, however, she's a legit world traveler.
How'd that happen?
There's no two ways about it—Lou's hometown is as dull as dirt. The one point of interest is Stortford Castle (which is owned by Will's family), a tourist destination that draws people from all over the world. In fact, Lou marks "the changing seasons [...] by [...] the return of the tourists" (11.3). Besides this occasional influx, however, there's not much going on, making the village a generic fill-in for every small town ever.
That creates a sense of confinement for Lou. Here's how she sees her life playing out:
I supposed I would probably marry Patrick, knock out a few kids, live a few streets away from where I had always lived. (2.5)
Really exciting stuff. In this way, the town comes to represent Lou's feelings of insecurity and fear about her future, as well as a sense of inevitability about the fate she sees awaiting her. It's as if she's resigned herself to remaining in this boring little town simply because she thinks it's what she's supposed to do.
So it's no surprise that Lou is blown away when she visits Mauritius, a small island off the coast of Africa. She "had never [...] imagined that [she] would spend time somewhere like this" (23.42). Of course, part of Lou's bliss can be attributed to her growing romantic feelings toward Will, but equally important is her sense of amazement at the beauty the world has to offer.
Mauritius is about as different from small-town England as you can get.
We see a similar dynamic at play when Lou visits Paris in the novel's closing moments. This visit was arranged by Will before his death and is a reference to a conversation earlier in the novel when he said that it was his favorite place in the world. In a fitting way, the novel closes with Lou heading "off down the street toward the parfumerie and the whole of Paris and beyond" (e.32), finally taking her future into her own hands and embracing all of its possibilities.
Although there are some super-serious subjects in Me Before You, you shouldn't have any trouble with it. Conversational, humorous, and plot-driven, this novel is no Gravity's Rainbow. Not that that's a bad thing.
A pair of bright yellow-and-black bumblebee tights isn't exactly a chic look, but these tights sure do help define Lou's unique sense of style.
In a conversation with Will, Lou explains that this was the first "loud" clothing she ever owned. Her mom gave them to her as a gift when she was a kid, and she wore them so much they basically disintegrated. We've all had a clothing item like that, right?
These tights represent the inner adventurer in Lou that she now struggles to keep suppressed in order to keep on truckin' in her small town. They become a symbol of that inner self that would like to burst out, if Lou would just stop being afraid to let it. It's no wonder she gets so attached.
In fact, check out how Lou describes her sadness when her mom had to throw those tights away: "I have never found a pair of tights I loved like that again. They don't do them anymore. Or if they do, they don't make them for grown women" (6.180).
A true tragedy. Amazingly, however, Will achieves the impossible by getting a pair of these bumblebee tights custom-made for Lou on her birthday, which he proudly gives to her at a family dinner.
This is a big deal for Lou. Not only is she receiving a clothing item that she's been pining after for years, but she's also being shown by Will that he truly knows her—and that he's giving her permission to let her hair down and live her life on her own terms.
Contrast this stellar gift with Patrick's: a necklace Lou describes as being "not remotely [her]" (13.161). No wonder Lou ends up liking Will better.
Folks, whenever you see a maze in any book, you can bet that what you're getting is a great big ol' SYMBOL from the author, in all-caps. What better symbol for being confused or lost could there be?
It's no different here.
Lou's teenage experience in the maze surrounding Stortford Castle is deeply traumatic and shapes her life in a profound way. Now, the book never gets too explicit about what happened that night: Lou was partying with her friends at the center of the maze when suddenly all of the girls disappeared, leaving her with a group of drunk and disorderly men. This is where things get hazy, but it's heavily implied that Lou was raped. This explains why she describes it as the "exact day [she] stopped being fearless" (12.1).
From this day forward, Lou is never the same. She stops being outgoing. She loses her desire to leave her small town and explore the world. She stops doing anything that might be construed as provocative. This is because she still blames herself for what happened, partially because she's never been open about the experience with others.
That is, until she re-enters the maze with Will and has a full-on mental breakdown. Will then comforts her until she feels comfortable enough to reveal her story. More than that, however, he tells her something she really needs to hear. Take a look:
"You don't need me to tell you that it wasn't your fault," he said quietly.
"Yes. Well. I still feel...responsible. I drank too much to show off. I was a terrible flirt. I was–"
"No. They were responsible."
Nobody had ever said those words aloud to me. (17.249)
This is an important thing for Lou to hear. While that terrible night was indeed traumatic, she's let it hold even more power over her by blaming herself for what happened. By finally sharing her pain with someone—someone who doesn't judge her and instead supports her unconditionally—Lou has taken the first step on the road to healing.
Me Before You is a total romance novel. How could Paris not be an important locale?
For Will, Paris represents the life he's no longer able to enjoy. He wistfully describes the beauty of drinking coffee and eating croissants in quaint Paris cafés, but recoils when Lou suggests that they go there together. He believes that visiting this magical city is his current state will only sully his memories of it.
So it's only fitting that Will demands Lou visit the city after his death. How does he get her to go? Well, he writes her a letter and then requests that she not read its contents until she goes to a specific café and orders a specific meal—croissants and coffee, obviously. In this way, Will is trying to imbue Lou with the same sense of exploration and adventure that he enjoyed so much before his accident.
Does it work? Well, check out the closing bit of that scene: "And stepping out from behind the table, I straightened my bag on my shoulder and set off down the street toward the parfumerie and the whole of Paris and beyond" (e.32).
Yeah, it worked like a charm.
Will knows that Lou will be devastated by his death for a long time, but he hopes that she will take away from the experience a renewed appreciation for the wonders that the world has to offer.