In the novel, hands symbolize support in times of crisis (particularly in the case of family members), and how that support can ultimately be life-saving. Holding hands first comes up when Hugh takes Ursula’s hand when she is in the hospital following her abortion. She describes how this action saves her from the black bat, itself representing death. Ursula then holds her own daughter Frieda’s hand in the hospital in order to achieve the same effect, trying to tether her to this world. Later in the novel (though earlier in Ursula’s life), Pamela holds Ursula’s hand when Roland is discovered having drowned. Additionally, when Ursula’s apartment at Argyll Road is bombed, and Ursula is dying in the wreckage, Mr. Emslie also tries to comfort her and keep her alive by holding her hand. Thus, hands become not only literal physical comfort, but symbolic representations of the support between family members and a way of trying to keep someone alive.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Hands appears in Life After Life. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Like a Fox in a Hole, May 1926
Like a Fox in a Hole, June 1932
A Lovely Day Tomorrow (I), November 1940
A Lovely Day Tomorrow (II), November 1940
The Land of Begin Again, August 1939
A Long Hard War, September 1940
A Long Hard War, November 1940
The End of the Beginning