Interdisciplinary Teaching Ideas

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Interdisciplinary Approaches and Teaching Suggestions 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is a thought-provoking novel that lends itself to interdisciplinary teaching at the college level. It touches on various themes such as loneliness, mental health, social isolation, and the power of human connections. It’s also a really interesting and occasionally surprising read! Should professors decide to incorporate the novel into their classes, the following are some interdisciplinary teaching suggestions based on the novel: 


  • The novel examines an individual who is alienated or distanced from her community. Explore how social structures and cultural norms impact individuals’ sense of belonging and the role of community in providing support and identity and how Eleanor struggles with/tries to adhere to the norms as she understands them. 
  • The titular character’s unconventional behavior and occasionally awkward attempts to adhere certain cultural norms drive the plot of the novel. Discuss how cultural norms shape social behavior and how individuals who deviate from these norms are perceived and treated in different societies. 
  • The dynamics of family and kinship in shaping individual identities and social roles in the novel are ripe for analysis. 
  • Eleanor has many rituals that guide her daily behavior and interactions. Analyze the role of rituals and social ceremonies in facilitating social integration and belonging. Examine how cultural rituals help individuals cope with life events and transition from one social role to another. 
  • Discuss how gender roles vary across cultures and the impact of these roles on individuals’ behavior and opportunities, particularly the main character’s.


  • Explore the therapeutic role of art and creativity in the novel. Investigate how engaging in creative activities can positively impact mental well-being.  
  • Encourage students to create art inspired by the themes of the novel or their own personal experiences. 
  • Create an alternative book cover or poster for a film version of the work. 


  • Eleanor's challenges in social situations and provide basis for discussion of the theme of inclusivity. Explore strategies for creating inclusive classrooms where all students, including those with social difficulties or differences, feel accepted and valued. 
  • Explore how meaningful teacher-student connections can positively influence students’ well-being, academic performance, and personal growth, especially those students who might not have a strong support system in the family home. 

English: Writing and Literature; Communications 

There are almost countless approaches to take with Eleanor Oliphant from the perspective of literary analysis. Many of the themes mentioned in conjunction with other disciplines can be used in literary discussion as well as the subjects mentioned. Some additional approaches may be useful, as well: 

  • Analyze the writing style and narrative structure of the novel. Explore the use of first-person narration and its impact on readers' understanding of Eleanor’s character. Encourage students to write their own stories with a focus on mental health and personal growth. 
  • Examine the challenges faced by Eleanor due to her unique way of expressing herself. Discuss the essential role of effective communication for building and maintaining healthy personal and professional relationships. Explore different communication strategies and how they can enhance interpersonal connections. 
  • Analyze the use of symbols and motifs in the novel, such as Eleanor’s scar, the newspaper clippings, and the plant. Discuss their significance and how they enhance the storytelling and themes and enhance the plot. 
  • Eleanor’s engagement with literature, particularly Jane Eyre, can be explored as a means of developing empathy and understanding for others. Discuss how reading and discussing literature can promote empathy and broaden students’ perspectives. 
  • Conduct an in-depth analysis of the main and secondary characters, including Eleanor, Raymond, and Eleanor’s mother. Discuss how their personalities, motivations, and interactions contribute to the novel’s themes and messages. 

Music and Theatre  

Both theatre and music offer insight into the symbolic layers of Eleanor’s character.  To begin a conversation about the music mentioned in the novel, check out the Spotify playlist comprised of music mentioned in the novel: 

  • Explore how music is used in the novel to convey emotions and mirror Eleanor’s internal struggles. Additionally, examine how music functions as a therapeutic tool for Eleanor's emotional well-being. Discuss the psychological and physiological effects of music on mental health and consider how music can be incorporated into therapeutic practices. 
  • Investigate the connections between music and memory, particularly in relation to Eleanor’s past.

Philosophy and Self-Identity 

Philosophy might be a bit of a stretch for discussion in conjunction with this novel, but students could examine Eleanor's journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Discuss philosophical concepts related to self-identity and how external factors can influence a person’s perception of themselves. Reflect on the importance of self-acceptance and authenticity. 


Nearly every work of literature lends itself to psychological analysis; that being said, the trauma-shaped character of Eleanor Oliphant is particularly interesting for psychological analysis. Students in psychology classes may explore Eleanor’s behaviors, thought patterns, and emotional struggles as well as her potential underlying psychological conditions and how they are portrayed in the novel. Compare the character’s experiences with real-life cases and mental health research. 

For further analysis, you may wish to consider the following themes that lend themselves to discussion in the psychology classroom: 

  • Loneliness and social isolation are a catalyst for much of Eleanor’s behavior. Analyze the effects of prolonged isolation on mental health, cognitive functioning, and emotional well-being. 
  • Traumatic childhood experiences and Eleanor’s coping mechanisms are central to the novel. Examine the psychological consequences of childhood trauma, such as attachment issues and maladaptive coping strategies. 
  • The novel addresses the stigma surrounding mental health, and Eleanor’s struggles depict the internal and external barriers individuals often face when seeking help. Explore the psychological impact of stigma on mental health help-seeking behaviors. 
  • Eleanor experiences difficulty in understanding and expressing emotions and continues to insist that she is “completely fine.” Explore the concepts of emotional intelligence and emotional regulation and their importance in psychological well-being. 
  • The protagonist's negative thinking patterns and cognitive distortions offer insights into cognitive psychology. Examine the role of cognitive distortions in perpetuating mental health issues and strategies for cognitive restructuring. 
  • Analyze the attachment theory and how early attachment experiences influence interpersonal relationships in adulthood. 
  • Eleanor’s struggles with social interactions highlight challenges in social cognition and empathy. Explore the psychological processes involved in social cognition and empathy deficits, and their implications for interpersonal relationships. 
  • Analyze the protagonist’s path to recovery and personal growth using theories of psychosocial development and post-traumatic growth. Discuss the psychological processes involved in personal transformation and growth after adversity or trauma. 
  • Research the historical context of mental health care and treatment methods. Compare and contrast the experiences of individuals with mental health issues in the past and present. Discuss how societal attitudes toward mental health have evolved over time. 
  • Delve into the ethical questions raised by the novel regarding empathy and compassion for individuals experiencing mental health challenges. Discuss the responsibility of society and individuals in supporting those in need and reducing stigmas surrounding mental health.

Social Work 

  • Eleanor’s profound loneliness and social isolation are central themes in the novel. Students studying social work can explore the impact of social isolation on individuals’ mental health and well-being, the risk factors that contribute to isolation, and interventions to address and prevent social isolation in vulnerable populations. 
  • Eleanor’s traumatic childhood experiences are revealed throughout the novel. Analyze the long-term effects of childhood trauma on individuals’ development and mental health. They can also explore strategies for building resilience in survivors of trauma and the importance of trauma-informed care. 
  • Eleanor’s interactions with people around her, particularly with Raymond, demonstrate the importance of social support networks. Examine the significance of strong social support systems in promoting well-being and preventing social isolation. 
  • The novel touches on themes of abuse and domestic violence. Students can delve into the dynamics of abusive relationships, the barriers survivors face when seeking help, and the role of social services in providing support and safety to victims. 
  • The novel deals with the impact of substance abuse on families and individuals. Discuss the challenges of addiction, the role of social work in addiction treatment and recovery, and the various approaches to addressing substance abuse and supporting recovery. 


  • Investigate the theme of social isolation and its impact on individuals and society. Analyze the reasons behind Eleanor's isolation and its consequences. Examine how society and its norms can contribute to loneliness and ways to address this issue at a societal level.

Hard Sciences 

While not much direct mention is made of the sciences in the novel, there are some plot points that might serve as the basis for discussions in biology or chemistry classes, namely:  

  • Eleanor's experiences with physical injuries and past trauma can be examined from a medical standpoint. Discuss the medical interventions and therapies that contribute to her healing and recovery. 
  • Although not a primary theme, Eleanor's family history and her mother’s mental health struggles provide opportunities for discussing the role of genetics in mental health conditions. 
  • The novel touches on Eleanor's interactions with the healthcare system and medication. Analyze the pharmacological treatments available for mental health conditions and their potential benefits and side effects.