The Ultimate Guide to Analysing The 7 Stages of Grieving: Summary, Context, Themes & Characters


Suitcases - The 7 Stages of Grieving Analysis

Are you studying ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’ for English and struggling to understand its symbolism, meaning and significance to come up with an analysis?

Well, have no fear! We’re going to walk you through the key ideas, characters and context of The 7 Stages of Grieving which will hopefully help you smash out your next task.

PLUS we’ll provide you with a TEE table and a sample paragraph so you can see what a high level response looks like!

So, let’s begin!

The 7 Stages of Grieving Summary
Key Characters in The 7 Stages of Grieving
Themes Explored in The 7 Stages of Grieving
Analysis of The 7 Stages of Grieving

Summary of The 7 Stages of Grieving

The 7 Stages of Grieving takes readers on an emotional journey through the stages of grieving experienced by Australia’s Indigenous community. The monodrama parallels the stages of grieving with the 7 stages of Indigenous history; Dreaming, invasion, genocide, protection, assimilation, self determination and reconciliation. 

The 7 Stages of Grieving Play

Image sourced from Lilydale Books

Now, back to the summary. The play has a single character, ’the woman’, who transforms into different characters, performing consecutive vignettes/monologues. She tells powerful individual stories, relaying the experiences of dreaming, invasion, reconciliation, truth, brutality, discrimination and community. 

The 7 Stages of Grieving Justin Harrison Photographer

Image sourced from Theatre People

Each scene contains one of these individual stories, as outlined below: 

  1. Prologue 
  2. Sobbing – initial exploration of grief through words and sounds
  3. Purification – purification ritual
  4. Nan’s story – reminiscing her grandmother’s life and death. Ideas of togetherness – collective mourning.
  5. Photograph story – a recollection of familial stories 
  6. Story of a Father – reflecting upon the inevitability of death 
  7. Front and Centre – story of a woman who would attend many funerals. Touches upon themes of collective and familial bond. 
  8. Family Gallery – family photos from the suitcase (see 5)
  9. Black Skin Girl – exploration of internal and external conflict – roots and imposed identity.
  10. Invasion poem – explores the violence of colonialism
  11. 1788 – satirical reenactment when the first fleet landed in Botany Bay
  12. Murri Gets a Dress – stand up comedy revealing the sinister truths of being an Indigenous person in today’s society
  13. Aunty Grace – story of separation and familial ties
  14. Mug shot – a story on police brutality and hidden truths 
  15. March – a story of togetherness and media discrimination
  16. Bargaining – a story of losing one’s home and land 
  17. Home Story – exploring complexity of familial and culture ties
  18. Story of a Brother – a story of societally induced cycles
  19. Gallery of Sorrow – gallery of Indigenous history
  20. Suitcase Opening – a story of grief and catharsis 
  21. Wreck/con/silly/nation – a poem touching upon ideas of reconciliation 
  22. Everything Has Its Time – address to the audience
  23. A Plea – address to the audience. Explores notions of learning of each others stories and relaying them to a wider community, 
  24. Walking across Bridges – story of reconciliation and hope. 

The narrative takes audiences through time, conveying each story in a mixture of Indigenous and western storytelling styles. 

Key Characters in The 7 Stages of Grieving

There is only one character in this play – ‘The woman’. The anonymity of this sole character plays an important role in the play – not only because she is the play – but in the sense that she provides a deep emotional connection to the audience as we vicariously experience her experiences. 

Elaine Crombie in STCs The-7-Stages-of-Grieving. Credit Joseph Mayers

Image sourced from Limelight

Context of The 7 Stages of Grieving

The play first premiered in 1995. Preceding this premiere date, there were a few key events that spoke to the tensions and moods present in Australia during the time. 

In 1991, a piece of legislation called the ‘Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation Act’ was passed in the Australian parliament. Though its aim was to promote ideas of reconciliation, the legislation sparked controversy and doubt in Indigenous communities. 

In 1992, Australia’s Prime Minister Paul Keating made a speech, acknowledging Australia’s inexcusable maltreatment of its Indigenous people. The speech spoke truth to the atrocities of colonialism including the murder, dispossession of land, destruction of family and discrimination that occurred. 

Paul Keating Speech

Image sourced from Creative Spirits

Here are some useful links that you may want to take a look at to get more info on context!

As you may have noticed, the drama has deep political undercurrents, speaking of the persecution of a people, and perhaps the unattainability of complete reconciliation due to centuries of violence and deeply embedded grief. 

Themes Explored in The 7 Stages of Grieving

Here are some key themes from ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’. These are great starting points for you to start formulating your arguments, thesis and topic sentences. 

Memory and intergenerational trauma: The ideas of unpacking memory, and how memory can often be the cause of trauma reveals itself to be a common and important theme in many sections, particularly in ones including the suitcase.

Grief and loss: As you might expect, grief and loss is one of the most prominent themes in the play. Many facets of grief such as the grief of a loss of culture, identity, history and family are just some of those explored.

Cultural and national identity: Like that of grief, a large chunk of the play looks at shifting ideals of cultural identity in modern times, and how this affects life and feelings of belonging. 

Colonialism: This is a theme that emerges when you take a deep dive into the background of Indigenous Australian history, which results in the grief built up in a culture over time.

Community: This theme pairs really well with that of grief and loss in that the prominent idea of healing through community and belonging is present in many sections of the play.

How to Analyse The 7 Stages of Grieving in 3 Steps

Before I give you a 3 step guide on how to analyse this text, there is one very important thing you must first note! 

As you may already know, this text is a play, meaning that when you analyse it, you must go beyond literary techniques, but ensure you analyse form techniques that are specific to the play itself. Among the many techniques you can use, some include stage directions, use of props and setting.

Remember that each element of the play works together to create meaning, so it is super important you look out for these techniques!

Now, back to analysis!

Most of the time, students try to attack essay questions by formulating a thesis. However, starting with your analysis first can give you a deeper understanding of the text, and thus, make it easier for you to write your thesis! 

So, here are three simple steps in creating an analysis for ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’!

Step 1: Choose your Example

Pick any example from your text! Ensure that it is not too short, or too long and that it has substance (i.e. it has a technique that you can pull out of it). 

We have chosen the following quote:











I feel… Nothing’

Step 2: Identify your technique(s)

When finding your techniques, you do not need to find ones that have 5+ syllables in them — your analysis is most important, so choose a technique you are most comfortable with so that your analysis is top notch! 

Three techniques in the above quote include: repetition, cumulation and dreary tone.

It is always a great idea to find multiple techniques so that you can ‘stack’ them up in your analysis, providing you with the opportunity to pick your quote apart!

Step 3: Write the analysis

When writing your analysis, you must ensure to focus on the effect of the technique. You should not be dropping in techniques without properly explaining what the effect of the technique is on the audience and how it adds meaning to the text.

‘Dropping’ techniques, or ‘technique labelling’ would look something like this: 

The second vignette, titled ‘sobbing’ features an accumulation of words and includes the repetition of the word ‘numb’, all of which have dreary tones.

Instead of this we need to flesh out how each of those techniques get us to our point. Remember that each piece of analysis should work towards answering your question.

Firstly, the cumulation is important as it expresses the magnitude of grief held within the Indigenous Australian community. The dreary tones add upon this previously established magnitude, expressing the emotional and mental burden that remains with those in the Indigenous community.

The repetition of the word ‘nothing’ creates an almost climactic point in which the many years of sorrow and grief has resulted in a numb feeling, revealing again, the negative emotional and psychological effects of colonialism.

So if we include all that in our analysis it looks like:

The second vignette, titled ‘sobbing’ features an accumulation of words such as ‘grief, grieving, sorrow..’ This accumulation of words with deeply dreary tones reflect the magnitude and cumulation of grief held within the Indigenous Australian community. This grief is then morphed into feelings of ‘numbness’ which is expressed by the repetition of the word ‘nothing’. Such use of repetition presents the effects of suppressed intergenerational grief and sorrow,  revealing the negative emotional and psychological effects of colonialism. 

Studying this text for VCE Unit 4 – Area of Study 1: Reading and Comparing Texts

When you are studying this text as a part of the Area of Study, Reading and Comparing Texts, you must remember a few more things for when you are preparing for your exams.

As a ‘comparative’ unit, you must ensure that you are able to draw on the similarities and differences in themes and form in your two prescribed texts, how this relates to context, and how reading the two texts together can strengthen certain ideas.

The text that comes in a pair with ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’ would be ‘The Longest Memory by Fred D’Aguiar’. 

The Longest Memory Book Cover

Image sourced from Penguin Books

Some similar themes that may help you start on your comparison includes: 

  • Community
  • Racism 
  • Memory 
  • Grief 

For example, the tension in Chapel and his fathers relationship provides insight into a different outlook on community/family relationships which is in contrast to the tight family/communal bond present in ‘The 7 Stages of Grieving’.

Of course, these themes must be analysed with textual evidence. Remember to always link your arguments to how they reflect contextual issues too!

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Yasmin Hasan is a current first year psychology student at UNSW. She loves making art, playing piano or reading in her spare time. She graduated from high school in 2021 so her memories of her own high school experience are still quite fresh. She would love to use her own experiences to help other students build their confidence and improve in their academics!

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