Study Guide

Life After Life What's Up With the Ending?

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What's Up With the Ending?

The Never-ending Story

Life After Life can be seen as a book with dozens of endings, in the form of each of Ursula's deaths, but it can also be seen as a book with absolutely zero endings. After all, every single time she dies, she's reborn again and starts her journey anew.

But for the purpose of this section, we'll talk about the book's final four chapters. Chapter 26 is aptly named "The End of the Beginning," and this chapter covers an entire life of Ursula's, one in which the déjà vu she experiences from having lived the same life so many times catches up to her.

Ursula kind of goes crazy and has to be institutionalized for a bit, and in this lifetime, she develops a sort of god complex, taking it upon herself to bend and twist the world as she sees fit. She sees herself as "both warrior and shining spear" (26.227)—and when she decides she's done her duty, she jumps out a window and kills herself. "This is love" (26.230), she says as she plummets to her death. What does she mean by that? That love means sacrificing yourself for the good of others?

Chapter 27 is a retelling of the first chapter, which only adds to the book's cyclical depiction of eternal recurrence. We get another slightly different scene of Ursula's birth in Chapters 28 and 30.

Chapter 29 is an odd one. In this one, Teddy's plane is shot down (as it was back in Chapter 25), but this time he lives. Now, there isn't anything Ursula could have done to change that, right? When they reunite at the pub, Ursula is afraid to move because she fears the illusion will be broken—but then she realizes that he is real. And maybe then she realizes that not everything is always in her control; she can't change the world by herself.

Eventually, Life After Life has to stop, so Atkinson ends it here. It's a fitting ending, because Teddy always was Ursula's favorite, like the child she never had (except in that one chapter where she has a child). She'd do anything in her power to protect him, but in the end she realizes that life sometimes has its own plans.

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