A Little Life Summary and Theme

 A Little Life Summary and Theme

Four friends who have recently graduated from college: Jude St. Francis, Willem Ragnarsson, JB Marion, and Malcolm Irvine. While the four are close, differences in background sometimes create distances between them. Jude and Willem are both from modest backgrounds— Willem's folks moved to Wyoming from Eastern Europe and filled in as farm hands until their demises — while JB and Malcolm both come from more affluent families. JB's folks are both Haitian American, while Willem is white and Malcolm has a Dark dad and white mother. JB is gay, while Willem is straight and Malcolm is as yet attempting to sort out his sexuality. Not a single one of them knows anything explicit about Jude's experience — his family ancestry, his sexuality, or even his race; he is a slippery and secretive person To a limited extent 1. The other three men pursue their expert objectives: Willem is endeavoring to be an entertainer, JB a visual craftsman, and Malcolm a designer. Toward the finish of Section 1, Jude harms himself seriously in what seems to be a self destruction endeavor regardless of his refusals, making the initial look into his grieved mind.

Starting To a limited extent 2, the story shifts from zeroing in essentially on Jude's three companions to zeroing in basically on Jude. In this part, the peruser discovers that Jude constantly cuts himself, yet additionally starts finding out about his awful past. Deserted by his folks outside a pharmacy as a child, he was taken in and raised by priests, who endured him, best case scenario, and physically mishandled him even from a pessimistic standpoint. He likewise experienced a horrible injury that brought about long-lasting spine harm that causes him leg torment and entanglements until the end of his life. In the current day, Jude grows such a cozy relationship with one of his regulation teachers, Harold, that Harold and his better half embrace Jude.

To a limited extent 3, every one of the four of the first companions' professions are on the ascent. Jude takes some work at a lofty law office, however his legs are deteriorating, causing him such an excess of torment that he frequently needs to spend numerous back to back days in his wheelchair. He buys a space loft and recruits Malcolm, presently an engineer with his own firm, to plan and finish the redesigns for it. JB, in the interim, battles with chronic drug use regardless of his own fruitful profession as a painter. His companions in the end stage a mediation, yet JB affronts Jude with a savage impression of his limp, cutting off the kinship.

Part 4 is primarily devoted to a sexual relationship Jude enters into with a man named Caleb and that quickly becomes abusive. Caleb treats Jude’s disability with cruelty, accusing him of weakness, and eventually escalates to beating him. The worst, final beating leaves him unconscious and badly injured, needing hospitalization and bedrest for weeks afterward. Eventually, the trauma from this relationship becomes too much to bear, and Jude attempts suicide but is discovered before he dies. In flashbacks, the reader sees that one of the monks at the monastery, Brother Luke, convinced Jude to run away with him and eventually began regularly raping him while also using him as a sex slave for a series of male “clients” to fund the two as they moved from town to town across the country.

In Part 5, Jude and Willem transition from a friendship to a romantic relationship. As they attempt to work through Jude’s continued cutting and fear of physical intimacy, Jude’s physical health declines, and a bone infection in his legs leads to a necessary amputation of his lower legs. In flashbacks, the reader learns that after escaping Brother Luke, Jude was next sent to a home for parentless children, where counselors again sexually abused him. From there, he ran away and was forced to trade sexual favors in exchange for cross-country rides from truckers. During this sojourn, he was kidnapped by Dr. Traylor, who kept him imprisoned in his basement and raped him regularly. Jude only escaped after Traylor ran him over with his car, causing Jude’s lasting spinal issues. Part 5 ends with Willem picking up Malcolm and his wife ,Sophie, at a train station for a vacation weekend but getting struck by another vehicle.

Part 6 reveals that Willem, Malcolm, and Malcolm’s wife have all died. Jude finds himself unable to process or deal with his grief. Eventually, he decides to try to kill himself indirectly by starving himself to the point that his weakened and immunocompromised body can be killed by any passing infection. His friends intervene, however, and force him into hospitalization. He reacts in anger until one evening when he lashes out violently at his adoptive parents, Harold and Julia, and finds solace in the fact that they love him anyway; he cannot push them away despite his best attempts.

In Part 7, first-person narration from Harold reveals that Jude has killed himself. Despite reaching an equilibrium after Willem’s death at which he was able to resume his social life and interact with others healthily, he never recovered emotionally from the loss of Willem or from his childhood trauma. He left notes for his closest loved ones, including Harold and Julia, to whom he finally confessed the story of his past, apologizing for it as if they would think less of him upon learning it.

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A Little Life Character Analysis


Jude’s status as a static protagonist makes his characterization both frustrating and sympathetic. His extraordinarily low self-worth, informed by a childhood rife with abuse, never budges throughout the novel, despite extensive efforts to help him from a loving community of friends. Named for a martyr of the early Christian church, Jude often appears saint-like both in his level of suffering and in his gentleness, but his saintly kindness comes from a conviction that he could lose his friends’ love at any moment rather than a genuine absence of any anger.

Jude’s childhood consists of an endless string of sexual abuse, from his years as a foundling in a monastery to his time on the road with predatory ex-monk Brother Luke to his years in a home for children without parents to his months held in captivity by the sadistic Dr. Traylor. Without being told, he realizes that there is something wrong with what he is being forced to do, but he wrongly assumes that the fault is his rather than his despicable caretakers’. Because Dr. Traylor runs over Jude with a car, Jude’s psychological trauma is paired with lasting physical damage to his back and legs that plagues him for the rest of his life.

Although Jude accomplishes an astonishing amount of success, eventually becoming a wealthy litigator in one of New York City’s top law firms, he is ultimately more noteworthy for what he does not do than for what he does: Jude never recovers. Despite his enormous wealth, despite his network of close friends, despite even being adopted by his former law school professor, he can never accept that the image of himself as essentially worthless and loathsome that he formed during childhood is wrong.


Despite the many difficulties of companionship with Jude, William is Jude’s closest friend, staunchest defender, and eventual romantic partner. While no character’s past rivals Jude’s in trauma, Willem’s past is not without its own tragedy: He was raised by emotionally distant parents, and his beloved older brother, Hemming, died of complications from cerebral palsy during Willem’s college years. Jude often suspects that Willem may love him only out of pity because Jude reminds him of Hemming. Whatever the source of Willem’s love for Jude, however, its power and steadfastness are beyond doubt.

The tension that animates Jude and Willem’s relationship is Jude’s unwillingness to reveal his whole self to Willem and Willem’s inability to know how to handle Jude’s trauma. Jude constantly hides truths or outright lies to Willem. He does not open up about his past trauma for decades; he continuously lies about his continued cutting; he struggles to even remove his shirt in front of Willem out of shame for his scarred arms and back. Willem meets all of this withholding with love. He respects Jude’s boundaries—arguably to a fault. Only late in the novel does he begin pushing Jude’s boundaries, and even then he cannot figure out whether this is the right thing to do or if he is only causing Jude to retreat further into himself. Although Willem is a wildly successful actor who moves between blockbusters and critically praised independent films with ease, he has none of the egotism usually associated with actors, instead devoting himself to Jude.

If Willem is guilty of anything, it is of having too much confidence that his love can heal Jude. Willem’s death near the end of the novel proves to be Jude’s breaking point; while Jude only ever clung to life half-heartedly before Willem’s death, he forfeits the attempt after, having lost the love of his life.


While most principal characters in the original show a practically godlike commitment to Jude, JB offers a viable differentiation as a man not unfeeling toward Jude yet more narcissistic than the remainder of Jude's cadre. Due to this portrayal, he goes through the main change in the novel, moving from a clever yet once in a while savage young fellow to a more estimated, generous man by the original's end. He is additionally the only one of the first gathering of four from Section 1 to endure the whole book.

Raised by an enormous gathering of broadened female relations, JB appreciates limitless certainty, the only one of Jude's unique four school companions not buried in self-uncertainty or personality emergency as a young fellow. In spite of the fact that he takes more time to arrive at notoriety and fortune than the other three, his vocation as a painter in the long run takes off, driving him to the degree of expert achievement that his companions appreciate in their fields.

While JB doesn't express his affection for his companions frequently, his canvases represent him: He paints Malcolm, Jude, and Willem solely, making a vocation out of changing photographs of the companions into staggering topical assortments. His imaginative renderings express what he can't in words, uncovering all the magnificence he finds in his companions, particularly Jude, who can't square his own self-discernment with JB's renderings of him. Albeit one of Jude's bottommost extremes as a grown-up comes from a brutal impression of his handicap that JB performs while in the pains of chronic drug use, JB at last vindicates himself with ensuing reliability to Jude.


Although Malcolm Irvine is probably the man in Jude’s original friend group the readers get to know the least, he maintains a steady caring presence in Jude’s life until his death in the same car accident that kills Willem. He comes from the most affluent and the most traditionally stable background of any of the four boys, with parents who may pressure him to achieve success but nevertheless love him. As a young man in college, he struggles to find a sense of identity, particularly when JB’s challenges to his Blackness lead him to question what his biracial identity means to him. He also questions his own sexuality for many years before finally deciding he is straight and marrying a woman named Sophie. This tendency toward indecision follows him throughout his life, but Jude enjoys being able to offer advice to his friend when it comes to questions of marriage and children because it allows him a relationship in which he can give rather than just receive care.

That said, Malcolm does follow the pattern of friends in Jude’s life who go to great lengths to care for him. When Malcolm catapults to international fame in the architecture world, he always makes time for special projects for Jude, including renovations of his loft and construction of a summer house. Malcolm designs these spaces with Jude’s increasing immobility in mind, offering accessible features and plenty of wide spaces in which a wheelchair can turn. In this way, Malcolm’s designs are pivotal in helping Jude to accept that he has a disability rather than just some temporary pain that will eventually go away. Although Malcolm’s death gets somewhat overshadowed by Willem’s death because of Willem’s primal importance to Jude, the deaths of Willem, Malcolm, and Malcolm’s wife all at once mark a harrowing tragedy in the novel’s progression.


A brilliant and lauded law professor, Harold Stein quickly recognizes something special in law student Jude and embarks on a mentor/mentee relationship with him. As the years progress, the two grow so close that Harold and his wife, Julia, adopt Jude, despite the fact that Jude is already 30 years old. While Harold says the advantage of legal adoption lies in inheritance, the reader can see the adoption is about more than passing down money: Even though Jude will not tell Harold the details of his past, Harold senses the traumatic void of a parent’s unconditional love.

Harold lost a son to a rare neurodegenerative disease at the age of five, so his attachment to Jude may in part be an effort to have the relationship with an adult child of which he was so cruelly deprived. However, Harold attaches to Jude out of more than merely a desire to replace a lost son. He realizes that Jude has both great needs and great talents. He nurtures Jude’s self-confidence and his professional acumen, although only one of these efforts has lasting effects.

Much like Willem, Harold’s constant concern when dealing with Jude is not knowing how to help him. He, too, hesitates to push Jude too far toward more open communication but continuously worries that he is not pushing him far enough. Toward the end of the novel, Jude’s long-repressed anger finally emerges, but Harold and Julia meet it with love. Tragically, their devotion is never enough to overcome Jude’s trauma: Even in his suicide letter to them relating the details of his horrific past, he apologizes, convinced that his story will render him disgusting in their eyes.


Jude’s college friend and primary physician, Andy is an orthopedic surgeon who takes care of all Jude’s many medical needs. Because he needs to know Jude’s medical history to treat him, he learns some vague details about Jude’s past experiences with abuse before any other major character. For this reason, Jude refuses to see any physician other than Andy except in life-or-death scenarios; he cannot bear to entrust the truth of his past to another person.

Due to his need to examine various parts of Jude’s body, Andy also becomes aware of how serious and constant Jude’s cutting addiction is before any other character, and at various points he also notices alarming weight loss due to Jude’s poor eating habits. His response to such self-harm is characterized by indecision and hesitancy; while he constantly threatens Jude with involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital if he does not stop his destructive behavior, he instead only takes half-measures, such as keeping records of how much Jude has cut each week. As a result, Andy spends most of the novel ridden with guilt, trying to determine if taking a firmer stance would help or hurt his patient. Despite his frustrations, he proves himself a loyal and caring friend, keeping Jude’s confidences and helping him navigate his near-constant ailments.


While Sibling Luke — whose genuine name is Edgar Wilmot — is a long way from the main overseer who manhandles Jude, he is the person who bears the most importance to Jude. At the point when Jude ponders his past as a grown-up, he considers the start of his companionship with Sibling Luke as the second that his life started a hopeless descending winding. As one of the men at the cloister where Jude is raised after his folks deserted him, Sibling Luke separates himself by offering Jude thoughtfulness when the vast majority of different siblings hatred, beat, or physically misuse him. Along these lines, he preps Jude, acquiring the kid's trust just to later turn into his victimizer.

In the wake of persuading Jude to take off from the cloister with him, he before long powers him into sex subjection, at last laying out an ordinary everyday practice of assaulting Jude himself after other "clients" leave for the evening. Despite the fact that he attempts to let Jude know that their sexual contact is an exhibition of affection, and in this way is not the same as Jude's constrained sex work, Jude naturally realizes it is off-base. Sibling Luke savagely saves Jude's expectations for a superior life alive, persistently encouraging him that they will actually want to purchase a lodge and live there calmly assuming Jude just proceeds with his sex work for somewhat longer. It is just when Jude starts to understand that this is completely false that he at long last comprehends Luke doesn't have his wellbeing on a fundamental level. Jude is in the end protected from Sibling Luke when police strike their lodging one evening and Luke balances himself in the washroom before they can thump the entryway in, however he torment Jude until the end of his life, keeping Jude from accepting that a guardian can cherish him without vile thought processes.

A Little Life Themes


Jude’s entire adult social circle is made up of extremely wealthy people. Malcolm, JB, and Willem all rise to the top of their artistic fields; Harold is not just a professor at an Ivy League university, but a famous and popular author as well. The friends Jude makes early in his law career end up doing equally well for themselves. Jude himself procures a spot at a top New York City law firm in his thirties. They are people who can afford to buy multiple houses in multiple cities, traveling between them as need or whim dictates. They can take lavish vacations at a moment’s notice. They give each other expensive gifts for celebrations and anniversaries. Jude and Willem even have their own signature scents; Willem contracts a perfumer in Europe to create them and continues to buy them on special order until his death.

On one level, the extraordinary success of this group is not entirely surprising; people tend to make friends with people who inhabit similar socioeconomic worlds as themselves. However, it does stretch plausibility that so many people who were not fabulously wealthy when they met all became fabulously wealthy later. One reason Yanagihara may have for parading this lavish wealth in front of the reader is to underline that some trauma is too profound to recover from, even with extravagant riches to expend on the effort.

As Jude’s physical and emotional struggles become more apparent to his friend group, they pour their considerable resources into helping him. After Jude has to climb up five flights of stairs with his fragile legs because his apartment building’s elevator is broken and hurts himself horribly in the process, a wealthy friend named Richard offers to sell him a loft in his building with a reliable working elevator. Richard has this loft to sell because he inherited a whole building full of spacious lofts from his father. Malcolm offers his design services, constructing two elegantly ADA-compliant houses for Jude, his city apartment and his country retreat. Jude even has, through his friends, connections to private jets to enable stress-free travel despite his physical limitations.

An ordinary person with Jude’s same physical and emotional problems living in New York City would likely either be drowning in medical debt or gritting their teeth through pain to avoid drowning in medical debt. They certainly would not be enjoying European vacations, special homes designed just for their needs, or offers to buy a New York City loft at a spectacularly discounted rate. If endless resources were the cure to trauma, Jude would be cured many times over. Yet by the end of the novel, readers see that even his and his friends’ spectacular wealth could not heal the damage done by his childhood. Without a doubt, the wealth that surrounds him makes his life infinitely more comfortable than it might have been had he remained a penniless waif, but ultimately, it is not enough.


In Jude’s world, friendships are bonds as close as family—for some characters, much closer than family. Most of those in Jude’s social circle do not hold bonds of blood as a more sacred or important connection than their friendships. In fact, the bonds they choose for themselves, their chosen families, are the ones they pour their time and energy into, cultivating the relationships with great care over decades.

While there is no shortage of books, movies, or television shows that reflect on how much work romantic relationships require, friendships are often not treated with the same reverence. They are often considered an easier kind of relationship to maintain, one less fraught and more mellow. In contrast, A Little Life posits that meaningful adult friendships require as much work and tending as any romantic relationship and that without sustained effort they fade away. Time after time, Jude’s friends show that they are as devoted to him as any family member could be. They celebrate his victories, as when dozens of them travel across state lines or even continents on his adoption day to witness the happy moment. They support him in his weakness, as when they stage an intervention in response to his voluntary starvation. In short, they love him with a constancy that many books, television shows, and movies reserve only for biological family members or romantic partners.

Both Jude and Willem have particular reason to covet the close bonds of a chosen family. Deprived of both family and friends growing up, Jude has trouble accepting that anyone would ever choose him for any kind of relationship but is grateful that many people do so once he gets to college and law school. Willem grew up with cold, distant parents who always seemed more concerned with the practical details of child rearing than with creating emotional bonds. This shared need between Jude and Willem is probably one reason that the two gravitate toward each other more strongly than they gravitate to JB and Malcolm, who did not have perfect childhoods but did grow up with loving families.

When Harold and Julia adopt Jude, their decision feels like an incomparable gift because their non-biological relationship to him means they had to choose a familial bond with him. As someone abandoned by his parents as a baby, no act could be more precious to Jude. However, he still misapprehends the nature of Harold and Julia’s bond to him. Because they chose a familial relationship with him rather than being forced into that relationship through blood, Jude believes they could withdraw their commitment to him should he prove himself undesirable enough. The great tragedy of Jude’s adult life is that while he has a chosen family with a devotion to him that the average person would greatly envy, he can never believe their love for him is unconditional.


All through A Little Life, Jude's actual aggravation is as steady a presence as his close to home torment. After Dr. Traylor ran over him with a vehicle when Jude was a youngster, Jude's legs are harmed. He encounters constant agony as eruptions that come abruptly and leave him incapable to do everything except set down and stand by. The skin on his legs is likewise compromised, implying that any minor slices or injuries to them are delayed to recuperate and fast to become contaminated. Until Andy persuades him to go through removal and get prosthetic legs beneath the knee, he irregularly requires a wheelchair while encountering times of intense torment.

By concentrating Jude's actual aggravation, Yanagihara spotlights how troublesome life can be for individuals with handicaps in social orders that training ableism by making regular exercises difficult to reach to the impaired local area. Caleb encapsulates ableism at its generally unusual, disgracing Jude for requiring a wheelchair and calling him feeble for not having the option to rise above the consequences of his physical issue supernaturally. However, it isn't just Caleb that causes all kinds of problems for Jude. The property manager of Jude and Willem's Lispenard Road loft doesn't focus on lift upkeep regardless of the presence of an occupant who frequently requires a wheelchair, bringing about Jude, on one event, shutting down from the aggravation of climbing five stairways while pulling his wheelchair behind him. Jude takes his position at a corporate law office as opposed to remaining openly administration since he fears the mounting clinical costs he could build in advanced age. Indeed, even something as straightforward as getting to work is hard to explore in his wheelchair, constraining him to compute the expense of taxis as he chooses which business valuable chances to seek after. While he winds up loving his corporate law office work, his decisions all things considered restricted to oblige his clinical requirements in light of the fact that no friendly wellbeing net exists to guarantee he will be really focused on without colossal privately invested money.


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