They found Mary Bellows cuffed to the bed
With a rag in her mouth and a bullet in her head
O, poor Mary Bellows

She'd grown up hungry, she'd grown up poor
She left her home in Arkansas
O, poor Mary Bellows

She wanted to see the deep blue sea
She travelled across Tennessee
O, poor Mary Bellows

She met a man along the way
He introduced himself as Richard Slade
O, poor Mary Bellows

Poor Mary thought that she might die
When she saw the ocean for the first time
O, poor Mary Bellows

She checked into a cheap little place
Richard Slade carried in her old suitcase
O, poor Mary Bellows

"I'm a good girl, sir", she said to him
"I couldn't possibly permit you in"
O, poor Mary Bellows

Slade tipped his hat and winked his eye
And turned away without goodbye
O, poor Mary Bellows

She sat on her bed and thought of home
With the sea breeze whistling all alone
O, poor Mary Bellows

In hope and loneliness she crossed the floor
And undid the latch on the front door
O, poor Mary Bellows

They found her the next day cuffed to the bed
A rag in her mouth and a bullet in her head
O, poor Mary Bellows

So mothers keep your girls at home
Don't let them journey all alone
Tell them this world is full of danger
And to shun the company of strangers
O, poor Mary Bellows
O, poor Mary Bellows

Lyrics submitted by typo

The Kindness of Strangers song meanings
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  • +2
    My InterpretationThe first impression is that the story is pretty clear, as the guy above describes, but there is one detail which I'd like to remark: she undoes the latch without any reasonable explanation.

    So, my interpretation is that when the lyrics say "Poor Mary thought that she might die/When she saw the ocean for the first time", Mary feels that now that she's finally seen the sea she's ready to die and also get relieved from all her misery. That's the reason why she, in some way, "offends" Richard Slade by not letting him in and later does something that, unless you make this interpretation (that it is her will to die after she's accomplished her ambition) has no sense: to undo the latch of the door.

    That's why the title is "The Kindness of Strangers", to Mary what Richard Slade did was paradoxically an act of kindness, as her death was the thing she strived for. This interpretation also turns ironical the last verses.
    storiesofthestreeton December 27, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIts about a girl that grew up wanting to see the world outside of her home in Arkansas only to finally get there and be killed that night.
    samwaltonon March 24, 2007   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThis is such a tragic song, and it's meaning is pretty self-explanatory. I do feel though that there is a sense of mocking in this song, although I'm not sure if this is to do with the context of the Murder Ballads album being all about humour.

    Still, I think if we take it as being mocking, it becomes a lot more interesting. The character of Mary Bellows insists that she is 'a good girl,' but then, for no reason, decides to undo the latch on her door, allowing her killer to enter. It just seems so out of character and stupid, that perhaps Nick is mocking the final message of the song, which is for mothers to keep their girls at home.

    Aside from the randomness of Mary's decision to open the door, I can't find anything lyrically in the song to suggest this idea, but I do think Nick's delivery sounds deliberately gloomy, like he is parodying this, very traditional form of song writing, rather than embracing it and its ideals.
    JJKelsallon January 24, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMary unlocks the door "in hope and loneliness". She's sad and decides that maybe she wants Richard's companionship after all. To an obviously tragic end.
    skarekroeon April 30, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDid Richard really do it?
    Nothing in the lyrics kinda suggested it. He was a traveling companion. He probably would've had more opportunities to kill her, if it was him.

    By the time Mary undid the latch of her front door, Richard already left, stating in the lyrics:
    "Slade tipped his hat and winked his eye
    And turned away without goodbye"

    After that, "Mary sat on her bed thinking of home".
    Then she undid the latch.

    But Richard was already gone, it doesn't make any sense if he would've come back to see if it happened to be the case that Mary undid the latch of her door.

    Tragic song, tragic end nonetheless. But was it really Richard?
    moenbaseon January 26, 2016   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationI think it's more of a premonition rather than her conscious desire to die. Also, "the kindness of strangers" is a quote from the Streetcar Named Desire where in the end, betrayed by everyone in her life, Blanche says something like that she "always relied on the kindness of strangers". Mary is naïve and feels alone in the big world she always wanted to see, she is used to her home town and people who don't mean her harm, so she doesn't suspect any foul intent when she opens the door for the man who I think she lets in out of simply not wanting to be lonely. When she says that she might die after seeing the ocean, it means that it's breathtaking and the greatest accomplishment of her life, which becomes prophetic.
    maria9bjon March 24, 2017   Link

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