Life After Life

Life After Life

by

Kate Atkinson

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Life After Life: The Land of Begin Again, Apr 1945 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ursula lives in a cellar in Berlin with Frieda, sheltered from the British and American bombs. They had almost been killed earlier that day and took shelter in the Zoo Station, but thousands of other people were crammed into that bunker. Ursula thinks often about death, and hopes for a swift, clean one with Frieda in her arms.
This chapter demonstrates how, despite the fact that Ursula had tried to avoid her death in England, the grim conditions of war have proved inescapable no matter which side of the conflict she is on.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Ursula wonders if it is Teddy bombing her. She hopes it is—it would mean that he is alive. Two years earlier she had received a letter from Pamela informing her that Hugh had died in 1940 of a heart attack. Ursula had been exceptionally guilty for not coming home when she had the chance. She had tried once again: the day after Germany declared war on Poland, she had hastily packed a suitcase and hurried with Frieda to the train station, but all the borders were closed.
Ursula once again shows her willingness to prioritize her family’s safety over her own, hoping that Teddy is alive even if his actions might lead to her death. Additionally, Atkinson shows how the war has become literally inescapable, as Ursula is no longer been able to cross the German border in order to get back home to England.
Themes
Family and Love Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
Jürgen had died in a raid in 1944. Ursula had been relived, but was ashamed of this reaction given how Frieda was so upset. Frieda is now ill, with terrible bouts of coughing. Sometimes they venture out of the cellar, to a bombed apartment building, to forage for anything useful. There is no food to be found, however; the day before they had stood in line for three hours for a loaf of bread that seemed to be made entirely of cement and plaster.
Ursula views Jürgen’s death in much the same was as she viewed her escape from Derek, with utter relief at having escaped his control. Her reaction demonstrates how quickly Jürgen’s ties to the Nazi Party and its violent ideology had bled into their marriage.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Ursula gives all she can to her daughter, but knows that Frieda would not survive without her. Ursula tries to scavenge for useful things in their own apartment—which had been bombed so that it now looked open like a dollhouse—so that she could buy some medicine for Frieda.
The war prompts an unimaginable dilemma for Ursula: wanting to sacrifice herself for her daughter, but understanding that if she were to do so, it is unlikely that Frieda would even survive after that.
Themes
Family and Love Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
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Ursula decides to move back in to the apartment, despite the fact that it is completely open. She worries about the Russians headed for Germany. Frieda is only eleven, but Ursula thinks that if even a tenth of the rumors are true about the Russians, Frieda’s age would not save her from them. They seem to move nearer every day, guns constantly roaring.
Ursula implies that the Russian soldiers would rape them if they are found, demonstrating how the violence of war continues to normalize sexual violence and predatory behavior of women who are also victims of World War II. 
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
There is a rumor going around that Hitler has committed suicide. Ursula thinks about him “strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage,” and wonders to what avail he had lived. She thinks that once, life had mattered so much, and now, it is “the cheapest thing on offer.”
Ursula quotes Macbeth in order to compare Hitler to the Scottish king whose ambition proved to be his downfall. She thinks of the vanity it takes to begin a conflict that leads to the death and degradation of so many people.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Frieda has a fever and chills. Ursula sees that there is no way she could survive an exodus west, as other people are attempting. Frieda says she’s had enough. Ursula hurries to the chemist, but he has no medicine, and she returns completely defeated. She misses Hugh, wishing that she could die in his arms.
As Ursula grows defeated by her situation, she misses her father, who had loved her through all of her crises. Instead of demonstrating how family love can help rescue someone from death, Ursula shows just how broken she is by wishing for him to be present and love her as she dies.
Themes
Family and Love Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
When Ursula returns from the chemist, she finds Frieda slipping in and out of consciousness. Ursula soothes her with details from the scenery and life at Fox Corner—the flowers, the animals, the apples in the orchard, her family and siblings when they were young. She then gives Frieda a pill that she says she got from the chemist, telling her that it will help her sleep. She tells Frieda that she would do anything to protect her.
Ursula comes to realize how futile her situation is, and how unlikely it is that she and her daughter will come out of the war alive. She once again calls on her family for support, using details from her childhood in order to help provide support and calm for her own daughter.
Themes
Family and Love Theme Icon
When Ursula is sure that Frieda is asleep, she places a little glass capsule in Frieda’s mouth and presses her jaws together. Ursula takes her own glass capsule and bites on it. She holds onto Frieda and welcomes the black bat. She thinks that “she [has] never chosen death over life before,” and she knows that “something had cracked and broken and the order of things had changed.”
Ursula makes the ultimate sacrifice, choosing death for herself and her daughter rather than protracting their misery. This timeline ultimately demonstrates how the war not only leads to death and violence, but breaks people down so much that they are forced to take the most desperate measures in order to avoid its pain and suffering.
Themes
Family and Love Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
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