Life After Life

Life After Life

by

Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life: Like a Fox in a Hole, Aug 1926 (I) Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ursula becomes extremely depressed, and she decides to do a typing and short-hand course rather than return to school. She only reveals the truth to Pamela, who is shocked that Ursula thinks what happened is her own fault. Sylvie, by contrast, blames Ursula completely for what happened. Ursula feels as though her life was saved for no purpose. She asks her mother to see Dr. Kellet again; Sylvie says uncaringly that he has since retired.
In this time of crisis, Ursula’s family members continue to show their true colors. While Pamela understands the hypocrisy of blaming women for being the victims of an assault, Sylvie does not seem to understand this hypocrisy. Not only is she cold to her daughter, but she actively exacerbates the situation by not helping her find a doctor who can improve her mental health.
Themes
Family and Love Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Ursula cuts her hair one day as penance. That night at the dinner table, Major Shawcross knocks on the door, asking if they’ve seen Nancy—they haven’t. He looks sick, saying she’s missed her dinner. Teddy offers to help look for her; of the Shawcross girls, he is closest to Nancy. Hugh also offers to go. They find Nancy strangled in a cattle trough, just like the other little girl years before. Teddy is heartbroken.
The ramifications of Ursula’s assault go beyond the traumas of her own life. In future timelines, when she does not cut her hair in penance, she is able to walk Nancy home and prevent her murder, allowing Atkinson to emphasize even more the immense repercussions of Howie’s actions.
Themes
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
Pamela leaves for Leeds, hugging Ursula tightly before she goes. Ursula does not return to school in the fall, and no one questions her. “Millie [is] too grief-stricken over Nancy” to worry about Ursula. Instead, Ursula attends a secretarial college run by a man named Mr. Carver. She wonders whether it might have been better to throw herself under a train after “Belgravia”—"her shorthand for what had happened.” She wonders whether she could actually start her life over, or if this “reincarnation” is “all in her head.”
Ursula’s thoughts here raise the question of whether she is in fact living out many different lives, or whether these possibilities are simply in her head. In some ways, Ursula’s different lives shed light on the experience of an author, who controls the fates of characters. Atkinson also places some power on her readers, who then choose which of Ursula’s storylines are most compelling.
Themes
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Mr. Carver likes touching “his girls” (the female students) “lightly on their shoulders,” and sometimes he makes them practice typing blindfolded. On these occasions, Ursula hears him making “wheezes and grunts” but is too afraid to see what he is doing. One afternoon, he touches Ursula’s neck. She wonders if there is something bad in her that invites this kind of unsolicited attention.
Ursula’s assault continues to affect her negatively, as the attitudes she gains about men follow her for the rest of her life. Made to feel weak, inferior, and again like she is the one to blame for the negative attention, Ursula is unable to stand up to the sexual harassment perpetrated by Mr. Carver.
Themes
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
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