Life After Life

Life After Life

by

Kate Atkinson

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Themes and Colors
Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities Theme Icon
Fate vs. Choice Theme Icon
Family and Love Theme Icon
War and Death Theme Icon
Gender Roles and Expectations Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Life After Life, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Life, Reincarnation, and Alternate Possibilities

Life After Life follows protagonist Ursula Todd through a variety of lives in twentieth-century Britain. Each chapter describes an alternative path that Ursula’s life could follow, ending with her (often premature) death. In some versions of Ursula’s story, Atkinson provides her main character with slightly different circumstances, which adjust the trajectory of her life. In other versions, Ursula has pangs of “déjà vu,” which lead her to try to avert the disaster that led to…

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Fate vs. Choice

As Ursula experiences a multitude of lives, each version of her life is slightly (or sometimes vastly) different. Arguments begin to emerge in the novel about fate and choice, as certain details or actions that Atkinson includes have large ramifications on Ursula’s life while some circumstances remain relatively unchanged. The book thus argues that even as minor choices have the ability to shape the direction of one’s life, it’s impossible to predict exactly how or…

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Family and Love

Despite the variety of storylines, there is one aspect of Ursula’s life that remains nearly unchanged throughout the book: Ursula’s family. Ursula’s relationships with her parents and her siblings are formative in each of her lives, yet their love is not always presented as unconditional. As Ursula experiences various traumas and the family faces collective challenges, different members of Ursula’s family react in vastly different ways. These different dynamics imply that the most important…

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War and Death

Ursula’s life begins prior to the start of World War I and in later chapters, she is in her thirties throughout World War II. War is thus a near-constant presence in Ursula’s life and, despite several attempts to escape its perils, becomes unavoidable. Atkinson never describes a battlefield scene, but she demonstrates how war disrupts the balance of life both in its widespread fatalities and in its disturbance of social norms on an international…

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Gender Roles and Expectations

Ursula grows up in the country in early twentieth-century Britain, a time and place that proscribes relatively rigid gender roles to its citizens. Women are associated with domesticity, motherhood, and chastity, while men are associated with work, strength, and violence. Yet because the storylines in which Ursula and other characters strictly adhere to these gender roles lead to far more negative consequences than those in which they do not, the rigidity of these roles is…

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