Mourning in Contemporary American Literature and Classic Fairy Tales

Aug 31, 2021

GPYB is pleased to announce a new, different and intellectually stimulating way to learn about unresolved grief and mourning.  A psychological, literary class:

Mourning in Contemporary American Literature and Classic Fairy Tales

A psychological literary class that begins October 4, 2021, Mondays and Wednesdays 7:30 to 9 pm. The course is a non-credit course offered via Zoom, therefore anyone can attend from anywhere in the world. There are discounts for early registration, paying in full and registering multiple attendees (sign up with your friends! See Registration form linked below).

Class: Mourning in Contemporary American Literature and Classic Fairy Tales.

This class will give every participating student a good foundation of literary criticism and reading fiction works with a critical eye within the psychological framework of mourning theory.

This class is the equivalent of a 200-level course at a four-year college or university. Students who attend and participate will receive a certificate of completion and a reference/recommendation letter if requested. However, this is a non-credit course and no prerequisites are needed. It’s not necessary to be a literary student or know much about literature or the study thereof. 

The course is intellectual but geared toward personal development more than academic achievement (though if you pursue studies after this, this course will give you a great foundation).  People of all educational backgrounds are encouraged to attend. It will be a non-competitive, non-judgmental, and confidential atmosphere. 

However, if someone wants to delve into the course as a scholar and requests a grade or letter of recommendation for future academic pursuits, one will be provided.

Whether students want to take the course as a new hobby/interest or a serious academic pursuit, the course will help students recognize the negative effects of unresolved grief and give them the psychological tools to resolve it. 

Summary: This class will discuss three ethnic American novels interspersed with a book of classic fairy tales through the lens of mourning and personal development.

Goal:  The ultimate goal of the class is to introduce students to literary criticism using a psychological lens and how to apply it, not only to the novels’ main characters, but also to the student’s own life and unresolved losses. 

Who Should Take This Course? Anyone who likes to read GREAT literature written by incredibly talented authors. Anyone who appreciates the craft of writing and story-telling inherent in brilliant novels by extraordinary writers. Anyone who wants to delve into four of the most masterful books written in the modern erea. Anyone who wants to understand how these four haunting works have captured the imagination of critics, professors, students and readers who love outstanding literature.

This course is for anyone who wants to explore these works in a way that hasn’t been done before (though they have been analyzed and critiqued by multiple people in a variety of ways).  The course is for anyone who wants to learn more about recognizing the traumatic effects of unresolved grief either in their own life or, if they are a therapist or social worker, their clients.

This course also delves into intergenerational grief which is unresolved losses passed from one generation to another. This will interest those who work or study in the areas of human rights, migration, diaspora, history, or those researching their own family’s heritage especially when there has been a major traumatic disconnection from the past via the abhorrent slave trade, radical colonization, or devastating crop failure in their native land.

By teaching students how to read a work of fiction through mourning theory—as well as teaching differences among literary critiques and how to apply the lessons from literature, analyzed in a particular way, to the student’s own life, abstract mourning theory becomes more tangible. This, in turn, allows the student to understand the importance of resolving grief, but more importantly, HOW to resolve it when loss occurs in his or her own life or how to help a client, friend, or family member through a loss or the legacy of loss passed from one generation to another.

Instructor:  Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed. holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Mount Holyoke College where she graduated magna cum laude with High Honors and Phi Beta Kappa.  She received the Kaufman Award for Excellence in Humanities and was a Mary Lyon Scholar. Her self-designed minor was in Education, Psychology, and Sociology. Her Honors thesis, which provides a partial basis for this course, was awarded High Honors by a distinctive panel of professors including the Chair of the English Department and is available at Mount Holyoke College Library. 

She also holds a Master of Education in Clinical Psychology from Cambridge College and a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley where she also taught Sociology on the undergraduate campus while attending law school. She is a certified grief counselor through the Grief Recovery Institute, a former psychiatric clinician, the developer of the Getting Past Your Breakup program, the founder of GPYB Boot Camps and the author of Getting Past Your Breakup, the best-selling book on breakups, published by Hachette Book Group, Getting Back Out There, Getting Past Your Past: The Workbook, and GPYB Power! Affirmations.

Description: The class will begin with a brief introduction to Literary Criticism or how and why literary works are discussed within a particular framework, using a few examples of how these three works of fiction have been previously critiqued.

This is followed by a discussion of the development of mourning as a psychological theory, as well as the intersection of literature and psychology.  

The three works used in this class are Ceremony by Leslie Silko (Native American), Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (African American), and Final Payments by Mary Gordon (Irish American). In each of these novels, the main character’s ethnicity and family history play an important role in the story.

As the class begins to study each novel, there will be a brief lecture as to what type of criticism has examined the work previously and how it has informed a close reading of the work. These are high profile works that have been critiqued, discussed, analyzed by multiple scholars.  Unfortunately, many scholars rely on the same framework and analysis that has been used many times over. Ceremony has been repeatedly analyzed as a story of unity and oneness. Song of Solomon has been analyzed as a work that explores the journey of identity. Final Payments has been analyzed as a work of reinvention of self. As in many critiques of fiction, academics have focused on the “search for self” motif which is somewhat cliché.

This class takes an entirely different approach as none of these works have been critiqued through the lens of mourning or unresolved grief, yet alone intergenerational unresolved grief going back centuries. While it can be argued that unresolved grief fits within “search for self” analysis, it is often the part of that search that is left out.

Before we begin the novels, and between each novel, we will read from a book that uses a psychological (Jungian) framework to analyze classic fairy tales, Women Who Run with Wolves (“WWRWW”)

WWRWW is written by psychologist Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes who employs her knowledge of Jung’s symbolism to unpack classic fairy tales and apply her analysis to issues faced by modern day women. WWRWW is a good example as to how to use classical psychological theory to unpack issues in a static work of fiction to assist in resolution of modern problems in a reader’s daily life.

Format:  Class will meet on-line via Zoom twice a week for 90 minutes Mondays and Wednesdays 7 pm to 8:30 pm.  An on-line discussion board with topics will be employed throughout and each student will be given both a private and public space on the forum board.  The private space will allow for discussion between the student and instructor and the public space will allow for class discussion among the instructor and all attendees.

There will be handouts for each lecture and a bibliography. The only required texts will be the three novels and Women Who Run With Wolves. Additional research will be required for some of the assignments. 


Purchase 4 books

The rest of the required reading will be handouts. A full bibliography on scholarship written about these works, as well as literary criticism, will be given to students to aid them in building a substantial reference library.

Requirements for grade/recommendation letter:

Reading all works. Participating in group discussion. 

Participating in on-line discussion group.

Leading on-line discussion and/or calls.

Reaction paper once a week.

5-10 page analysis paper at the end of every novel


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