Susan Gustafson's areas of research include 18th-20th century German literature, aesthetic theory, family fantasies, gender studies, psychoanalysis, feminism, Lessing, Goethe, Moritz, Kleist, Hoffmann, Poe, Kafka, Freud, Kristeva and Foucault. She has explored the representation of absent mothers and orphaned fathers in Lessing’s dramas to illustrate the fundamental deep structures informing his aesthetic and dramatic production and to demonstrate that the missing mother is actually not absent, but plays a central role in Lessing’s literary work. Gustafson has also published extensively on Goethe. Her book length study of German Classicism demonstrates in contrast to Foucault’s theories how 18th century poets—and particularly Goethe—were establishing their own poetry of same-sex identity and desire. Gustafson is now working on a book-length study, Families of the Heart, which outlines literary representations of families that challenge Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment notions of family ideals.