The 7 Stages of Grieving

The 7 Stages of Grieving

by

Wesley Enoch and Deborah Mailman

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The Suitcase Symbol Analysis

The Suitcase Symbol Icon

The central symbol in The 7 Stages of Grieving is a suitcase, which symbolizes the weight of grief. As the play’s central character, the Woman, shares stories about personal, political, and communal grief, she moves back and forth between states of intense pain and eerie numbness. Her suitcase is the object most associated with this difficulty in processing her grief. The suitcase—which belongs to the Woman’s whole family—is filled with photographs of family members who have either died or become estranged; each time the family loses someone, they immediately place all their photographs of that person inside the suitcase, which marks the beginning of their grieving process. On the one hand, putting the photographs into the suitcase makes grieving more manageable. It’s a concrete step in the grieving process that acknowledges loss and safeguards cherished memories. In fact, the symbolism is somewhat literal here: by putting the pictures into a suitcase—the very function of which is to make carrying its contents easier—the family is making it easier to carry their grief. Nonetheless, that grief is still heavy—and sometimes it’s too heavy to bear. Midway through the play, for instance, the Woman recalls when her Aunty Grace, upon visiting her recently deceased mother’s grave, dragged her suitcase out of the car and scattered its contents across the cemetery, symbolizing that her grief had become too much to carry. Likewise, as the Woman interacts with her family’s suitcase, she sometimes carries it easily and other times finds it too much to bear. At various points in the play, she buries the suitcase in the red earth, moves it from place to place across the stage, unpacks it, repacks it, and, at last, lays it at the feet of the audience before stepping away from it and declaring that she feels “nothing.” The suitcase, then, is the battleground for the Woman’s struggle between facing her pain and surrendering to numbness—carrying the suitcase indicates living with pain, and emptying or burying the suitcase symbolizes the state of numbness that the Woman experiences when she can no longer face her suffering. At the end of the action, the Woman is still messily moving through the many stages of grieving, attempting to wrangle the many layers of her sorrow, her family’s struggles, and her people’s pain.

The Suitcase Quotes in The 7 Stages of Grieving

The The 7 Stages of Grieving quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Suitcase. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Colonialism and Oppression Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bloomsbury edition of The 7 Stages of Grieving published in 2015.
Scene 5: Photograph Story Quotes

But this suitcase, which resides under the old stereo tightly fastened, lies flat on the floor comfortably out of reach. Safe from inquisitive hands or an accidental glance. In the suitcase lies the photos of those who are dead, the nameless ones. With an unspoken gesture we remove the photo of my nana from her commanding position on the wall and quietly slip her beneath the walnut finish. And without a sound push her into the shadow.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Woman’s Grandmother/Nana
Related Symbols: The Suitcase
Page Number: 281
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 12: Aunty Grace Quotes

I drive Aunty Grace out to the cemetery on our way to the airport. She doesn't have much luggage, there is plenty of room but no one from the family comes to see her off. I wait in the car while she goes out to the freshly turned soil of Nana’s grave. She is there for such a long time, I think we are going to be late. Finally she returns to the car, opens the back door and removes a suitcase. She opens it and proceeds to throw the contents all over the ground, everything. […] Crying, at last, crying.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), Aunty Grace, The Woman’s Grandmother/Nana
Related Symbols: The Suitcase
Page Number: 286-287
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 19: Suitcase Opening Quotes

The Woman paints herself as if preparing for war. Though her movements are restricted her voice assails the audience with a sense of all-encompassing sorrow. She takes the suitcase, opens it, throwing the red earth and family photos it contains all over the floor. The Woman grieves over the photographs.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Suitcase
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene 22: Plea Quotes

The Woman places the suitcase down at the feet of the audience.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Suitcase
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The 7 Stages of Grieving LitChart as a printable PDF.
The 7 Stages of Grieving PDF

The Suitcase Symbol Timeline in The 7 Stages of Grieving

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Suitcase appears in The 7 Stages of Grieving. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene 5: Photograph Story
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Numbness  Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity, Pride, and Resilience Theme Icon
...the floor and a clock ticking. The projection spaces fill with images of an open suitcase full of family photographs, slowly zooming in on the details in the pictures. The Woman... (full context)
Scene 7: Family Gathering
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity, Pride, and Resilience Theme Icon
The images from the suitcase are projected on the projection spaces around the stage like portraits hanging in an art... (full context)
Scene 12: Aunty Grace
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Numbness  Theme Icon
The Woman digs up the grave, pulling the suitcase out of it. She opens it up and looks out at the audience. She describes... (full context)
Colonialism and Oppression Theme Icon
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Numbness  Theme Icon
...stands by the grave for a long while, then returns to the car, retrieves her suitcase, opens it up, and strews its contents all over the ground. She drags the empty... (full context)
Scene 19: Suitcase Opening
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Numbness  Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity, Pride, and Resilience Theme Icon
...is preparing for war. She makes an indefinable noise of great sorrow. She opens the suitcase, scattering the earth and the photos inside all over the floor. She grieves for the... (full context)
Scene 21: Everything Has Its Time
Colonialism and Oppression Theme Icon
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Numbness  Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity, Pride, and Resilience Theme Icon
The Woman looks around the performing area, declaring it a mess. She picks up the suitcase. She packs the word RECONCILIATION into it and locks it. “Everything,” she says, “has its... (full context)
Scene 22: Plea
Colonialism and Oppression Theme Icon
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Numbness  Theme Icon
Aboriginal Identity, Pride, and Resilience Theme Icon
The Woman approaches the audience, carrying her suitcase with her. She tells them that there has always been a grieving amongst her people—for... (full context)
Scene 23: Relief
Memory and Family Trauma Theme Icon
Feeling vs. Numbness  Theme Icon
The Woman walks into a pool of light, leaving her suitcase behind. She stands with her face turned toward the light. She repeats the word “nothing”... (full context)