The process of catharsis can be employed in various literary pieces, but this tool is the most prevalent in dramas and tragedies. The term implies the process of experiencing strong feelings and emotions, which oftentimes provide the sense of relief, purging, or purification.
Catharsis can occur in both literary pieces and real life. In the majority of cases, it is much stronger in literary works as the certain level of drama is oftentimes added to them, while in real life this experience doesn’t necessarily have to be extremely dramatic or tragic. Sometimes, even reading a touching story or getting rid of the old memories can give a person the sense of the spiritual renewal, which catharsis signifies.
The term originates from the Greek word “katharsis”, which can be translated as “cleansing”, “purging”. In English, it was first used in the field of medicine to imply certain medications that possessed cleansing properties. Somewhere around 1670, the term began appearing in works related to literature and was used in its general sense, as the emotional occurrence.
There is a number of various reasons why authors implement catharsis in their works. The catharsis occurrence allows the reader to go through certain emotions indirectly. This means the reader is able to feel pity, sorrow, and even pain of the main hero (to some extent) without being affected too much by these feelings, as they are not connected to the real-life events of the reader. In this case, catharsis helps the reader discharge their emotions and reduce the feeling of tension.
When employing the catharsis scenes, the author is able to reveal certain traits of the character. Making the hero go through such an experience, the writer develops the character more and shows the new sides of him or her. This technique can also help the hero come to a sudden realization concerning his or her past and behavior.
When the readers are affected by the catharsis in the narration, they become more attached to the hero of the literary piece. Thus, a stronger bond appears between the audience and the heroes. This helps the author make his work more memorable and have a more significant impact on the reader. When serious and powerful emotions are involved, it is hard for the reader to stay indifferent. Therefore, when the catharsis occurs, the audience experiences deeper and stronger feelings about the literary piece.
Aristotle, studying the concept of catharsis, came to an interesting conclusion concerning how this literary tool can help the reader. According to his theory, when sharing the heroes’ experiences while watching a play, the viewers learn how to control and regulate their personal feelings and emotions in real-life situations. This has to do with the empathic property of the catharsis. The experiences of the characters are reflected on the audience, making each individual go through certain occurrences and deeper feelings. Hence, when the extra emotional life events occur, the reader will be able to deal with feelings and regulate them more effectively.
The examples of catharsis occurrences can be found in different literary pieces, mostly dramas and tragedies. For instance, Shakespeare masterfully implemented this literary device in one of his plays called “Othello”. The main hero perceives catharsis when he realizes the mistake he has made (killing Desdemona). Here, the hero goes through the intense rush of emotions, which results in his suicide. This is when the audience is able to undergo the cathartic occurrence as well. They feel sorrow for the heroes, strong empathy, sadness, and remorse, which might help them discharge their emotional tension.
V. Wolf in one of her works called “To the Lighthouse” used catharsis to illustrate the feelings of the character more deeply. Mister Ramsay, feeling melancholic because he didn’t reach his full (in his opinion) potential, reads a passage from “The Antiquary”, which allows him to experience the cathartic feeling. By sharing the tragedy with the fictitious characters, he experiences empathy and goes through the same emotions as the heroes do. Subsequently, this cathartic occurrence leaves him feeling relieved. He is now able to deal with his own feelings and emotions better and can control and regulate them more effectively.
Catharsis can happen in real life as well. Oftentimes, when people go through emotionally challenging and rough periods of their lives, they can either reach certain conclusions about themselves or let their emotional steam out and acquire the feeling of relief. Getting rid of the things that bring up bad memories can be called a cathartic experience as well. Completely changing your life because of the certain events is oftentimes considered to be the occurrence of catharsis. This proves that catharsis not only serves as a literary tool but also can occur in our daily lives.