Life After Life

Life After Life

by

Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life: Four Seasons... , 11 Feb 1910 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Sylvie wakes and Mrs. Glover brings her a breakfast tray with a single, half-frozen snowdrop. Sylvie is delighted by the flower, commenting on how brave it is because it is “the first flower to raise its poor head above the ground.” She thanks Mrs. Glover, who opens the curtains. The light reflecting off of the snow is extraordinary; “the black bat” has been deterred, she thinks.
The snowdrop, taken in conjunction with the symbol of the snow, appears in every timeline in which Ursula survives her birth. Thus, it comes to represent Ursula’s life—both the flower and Ursula are able to withstand the severity and unpredictability of the snow that nearly proved to be their doom.
Themes
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
Mrs. Glover tells Sylvie that Dr. Fellowes had been called to another emergency early that morning—a farmer trampled by a bull—but had checked in on Sylvie and Ursula before he left. Mrs. Glover says she heard the baby almost died. Sylvie thinks that there is a fine line between living and dying. Her own father, Llewellyn, had slipped on a rug after drinking cognac one evening and was discovered dead at the foot of the stairs the next morning. No one had heard him fall.
Sylvie’s note that there is a “fine line between living and dying” plays into Ursula’s (and many other characters’) lives. Often the difference between Ursula being able to live and being able to die is as small as a simple change in circumstances or a simple choice that Ursula makes.
Themes
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
After Llewellyn’s death, the family learned that he was a gambler who had unpaid debts all over town. Sylvie and Lottie sank into poverty and depression. Sylvie’s home and horse had to be sold, and her mother then got consumption. Seventeen-year-old Sylvie was saved by Hugh, a rising star in the world of banking.
Sylvie highlights another injustice of the gender dynamics of this time period: that women often had to rely on men for their money and well-being. As a result, they had very little agency of their own and were subject to harm based on the bad decision making of men.
Themes
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Lottie had died the next year and Hugh and Sylvie married on her eighteenth birthday. They honeymooned in France before settling in “semirural bliss” near Beaconsfield. The house had everything she could ask for: a large kitchen, a drawing room, and several bedrooms for children. Hugh and Sylvie tried to name the house, and when she saw a fox, she suggested that they call it Fox Corner. Hugh said the name sounded like a children’s story, and he wondered if a house can even be a corner. Sylvie thought to herself, So this is marriage.
Atkinson continues to show how Sylvie reinforces the dynamic of gender roles, as Sylvie wonders whether marriage is simply a negotiation in which the woman is expected to relent. Yet Atkinson also implies that Sylvie has more independence than she might think, as they do eventually call the house Fox Corner.
Themes
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
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Back in Sylvie’s bedroom, Sylvie invites five-year-old Maurice and three-year-old Pamela in to meet their new sister. Maurice pokes Ursula, who wakes up and squawks in alarm. Mrs. Glover pinches Maurice’s ear and asks what Sylvie is going to name the baby. She says Ursula, which means she-bear. Mrs. Glover then goes to fix lunch, shooing the children from the room so that Sylvie can feed Ursula.
Maurice shows his feelings about Ursula immediately, foreshadowing his eventual mistreatment of her and of most of his siblings.
Themes
Family and Love Theme Icon
Later, Bridget brings in a cup of tea and says that God wanted Ursula back. Sylvie comments that they “have been tested […] and found not wanting.” “This time,” Bridget responds.
Bridget’s words imply that she believes, in contrast with Sylvie and likely with many readers, that it is unnatural for Ursula to have lived—that instead, she was fated to die. Bridget’s words also foreshadow that, in fact, God will take Ursula back many times in the future when Sylvie and others are remiss in caring for her.
Themes
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
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