Life After Life

Life After Life

by

Kate Atkinson

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Life After Life can help.

Life After Life: The Land of Begin Again, Aug 1933 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ursula and her friend Klara have been waiting on the side of the road for hours, hoping to get a glimpse of Hitler, when suddenly series of big black cars pass by and the group of girls that have been waiting jump to their feet, cheering. The new Chancellor of the Reich salutes them.
In this timeline, Ursula experiences the war in a completely different environment. But even in Germany she is unable to escape the death that plagued her in England.
Themes
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
The girls form into a squad and march back to the youth hostel, singing as they go. Klara and her two younger sisters, Hilde and Hanne, are all part of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (the girl’s equivalent of the Hitler Youth). Their mother, Frau Brenner, calls it a healthy hobby to promote peace between young people—and to keep them away from boys.
In both England and Germany, there are distinctions and norms between the two genders that keep them separate, which allows for a reinforcement of given stereotypes. Whereas the boys participate in activities to make them better soldiers, the girls participate in activities that will make them better wives and mothers.
Themes
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Ursula has recently graduated with a degree in Modern Languages, and Germany is part of an adventurous year Ursula planned to spend in Europe before she settled down to teach: Bologna, Italy; Munich, Germany; and Nancy, France. Her true hope is that something will happen in her time abroad that might prevent her from returning to England.
Ursula continues to become more independent and break out of stereotypes, as she gains her higher education and does her own version of a “grand tour” of Europe. It is also implied that her desire to stay out of England is in an attempt to avoid her fate at Argyll Road.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Ursula and Millie had talked about her plans, with Millie expressing surprise that Ursula wanted to teach. Millie had done a course at a drama academy and had become an actress. Ursula had wondered what she might do, arguing that work in the civil service was pretty dismal too. Now she wonders what women do if they don’t want to go from “the parental to the marital home with nothing in between.”
The traditional gender expectations of women in British society also make it difficult for them to find a job if they want one. Ursula can only imagine two options for herself: working in the civil service, or teaching. While there are other jobs (like acting), there are very few opportunities for an educated woman to rise as high as an educated man.
Themes
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Get the entire Life After Life LitChart as a printable PDF.
Life After Life PDF
On the train to Germany, Ursula shares a compartment with a man who alternates between smoking and eating salami, who then follows her to the bathroom. He tries to push into the lavatory compartment with her, but she is saved by a pair of officers who give him a stern talking to and who lead her to a compartment of only women. She wonders why she continues to attract this kind of attention.
Strange men continue to prey on Ursula. Even though she is the victim of this harassment (like the earlier attempted assault with the man in the street), she continues to think that there is something that she has done wrong—a sexist double standard that is ingrained in the society.
Themes
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Ursula arrives in Germany, where she is staying with Herr Brenner, Frau Brenner, and their daughters Klara, Hilde, and Hanne. The girls are very excited by Ursula’s arrival and have a large dinner to welcome her. The Brenners don’t have much money, but Klara is determined to make the most of the rest of the summer and takes Ursula around Munich.
Ursula’s stay in Germany opens her eyes to a different culture. Readers, who know that the war is imminent, can see that the Brenners would have been considered “the enemy” in another timeline, proving how the war causes hardship for innocent people on both sides of the conflict.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Klara shows Ursula a school that Hitler had founded, explaining that he’s very keen on “the Party”—the only political party they’re allowed to have. Pamela writes in a letter to Ursula that Germany had passed a law that essentially represents the overthrow of democracy in the country. Ursula writes back that “democracy will right itself.” “Not without help,” Pamela replies.
The seeds of the war can be found in the rise of this Party—the Nazi Party. Pamela’s statement also serves as a criticism of inaction: democracy cannot “right itself” without people helping to restore it. Ursula takes this to heart later when she tries to prevent democracy’s overthrow before it happens.
Themes
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
Ursula spends time alternately sunbathing with boys wearing small swim trunks on hot afternoons and drinking and smoking with Klara’s friends from art school. Klara has recently graduated from art school is in love with a married professor of hers. Ursula is still a virgin, simply because she hadn’t met anyone she liked enough. Klara argues that she doesn’t have to like them.
It is notable that even though society generally treats women and men differently and contains the same general expectations, German society (or at least Klara and her circle of friends) seem much less uptight about sexuality, which provides them with a sense of freedom that Ursula had not previously enjoyed in Britain.
Themes
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
Hilde and Hanne convince Ursula and Klara to come with them to a rally of the Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth). There is a lot of marching and singing, and at the end everyone shouts “Sieg Heil!” and salutes. Ursula and Klara join in even though Klara does not support the Party. Klara explains on the way home that she didn’t want to be “set upon” for not saluting.
Again, Atkinson hints at the underlying causes of the war: even someone who disagrees with its principles, like Klara, joins in on supporting it for fear that she would be criticized or perhaps even physically attacked if she did not.
Themes
War and Death Theme Icon
Ursula and Klara chaperone the BDM (the girls’ version of the Hitler Youth) on another trip to a village on the Austrian border. The group visits a harvest festival there, where flags with swastikas decorate the field. Klara introduces Ursula to a distant cousin of hers, Jürgen Fuchs. Jürgen kisses her hand. He is very handsome, and Ursula notes the coincidence between their names (both Todd and Fuchs mean “fox”). She wonders if fate is intervening. After the introduction, Ursula writes to Millie, Pamela, and Sylvie that she’s in love with Jürgen.
Ursula attributes her meeting Jürgen to a sense of fate. But it is interesting that she thinks this way (and perhaps speaks to her deep romantic interest overpowering her sense of logic), as she knows that her own choices can have such a radical impact on her life—like choosing to take a tour of Europe in this version of her life, leading her to live in Germany in the first place.
Themes
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon