Why did Billy Joe McAllister jump off the bridge?

Answer

According to film critic Roger Ebert, the song "Ode to Billy Joe" never explains why the title character jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge. The song focuses on the narrator's reaction to the event. However, a 1976 movie based on the song provided a reason for the suicide.

In the movie, Billy Joe and Bobbie Lee are two infatuated teens. Bobbie Lee's parents warn her that she is too young for boys, while Billy Joe is determined to overcome their obstacles. However, Billy Joe has a painful secret. He tells Bobbie Lee that, while drunk, he had a homosexual encounter. In their 1950s Southern town, this is unacceptable. Billy Joe is not able to deal with the issue, so he kills himself. Bobbie Lee leaves town and lets everyone assume that Billy Joe impregnated her and jumped off the bridge out of guilt.

Reference:
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