A cathartic experience is a common thing for numerous literary pieces, especially the ones that feature certain dramatic events. Cathartic experiences involve a certain level of purging through a strong or sudden discharge of emotions. They are usually characterized by the relief of the emotional tension.
Even though cathartic experiences are prevalent in dramatic genres of literary works, they can appear in real life as well. When a person gets overwhelmed by a strong and sudden rush of emotions, this feeling can also be called a cathartic one. Even when a certain movie, literary work, or song makes a person sympathize greatly with the character and feel a strong emotional charge, such an experience can be called cathartic.
The term originates from the word “kathartikós” (Greek), which can be translated as “fit, suitable for cleansing”. It was first mentioned in the English language somewhere around 1605-1615 and signified a medical term, which described something with medical cleansing properties.
The term use isn’t limited to strictly literary pieces. People oftentimes mention cathartic experiences in such spheres of life as psychology and social interactions. Sometimes, extreme life circumstances or events can lead a person to go through a catharsis. Also, when the reader develops a personal attachment to one of the characters, it is more likely for him or her to have a strong emotional flood, which can be called a cathartic event.
Writers have been implementing the concept of catharsis for hundreds of years. Aristotle was the one who managed to study the phenomenon quite thoroughly and believed that through experiencing catharsis and a strong sympathy with the characters of the play, the public can learn to feel the same emotions and deep empathy. This, consequently, can help them control their feelings and emotions in real life and regulate the way they react to certain events.
The main role of cathartic occurrences the hero goes through in a literary piece is to allow the reader relive these emotions with the hero. This way, the author creates a strong bond between the reader and the hero, which makes the reader feel empathy more deeply and experience stronger emotions. By building such a strong connection, the writer is able to make a stronger impact on the reader, deliver the certain message more effectively, make the work look more persuasive, and make it more memorable.
Through the cathartic experience, the author can take the character’s development further. It is an excellent way to reveal some additional details and traits of the hero, allowing the reader to understand him or her better and comprehend the deeper meaning of the narrative.
Oftentimes, authors illustrate cathartic experiences in their works in order to help the reader release their emotional tension. When experiencing the same feelings as the characters, the reader is able to let some emotional steam out and go through a somewhat cleansing process.
The examples of cathartic experiences can be found in real life. They don’t necessarily have to be as strong as the feelings some characters experience in the works of literature, but they certainly occur in some aspects of life. For instance, when a person ends a relationship, which was mentally (or even physically) challenging and tiring, he or she might go through the cathartic experience by getting rid of all the things that belonged to their ex-partner. This way, a person is able to discharge their feelings and go through the emotionally cleansing process.
Another cathartic experience that can be found in real life involves a tradition, which lots of people tend to follow. When a loved one dies, it is common for some families to get together and scatter the ashes, oftentimes in a significant and special place. This way, the family perceives a cathartic and very emotional experience and receives the feeling of closure.
Shakespeare, being the master of tragedies, employed cathartic plot turns in a number of his works. For instance, in “Romeo and Juliet”, cathartic sensations can appear on both sides: in the story and from the reader’s point of view. The characters go through the cathartic experience when they die, which is the emotional peak of the play. Here, catharsis allows the heroes to finally let go of the worries and anxieties they’ve been feeling throughout the narrative. While the play serves a cautionary role, the reader might also experience catharsis when sympathizing with the characters. Because the tragedy is able to stir the reader’s feelings and create a bond between the reader and the heroes, it is possible to feel cathartic while reading the play and reflecting the characters’ feelings and emotions.
The character of the Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” goes through the catharsis at the end of the tragedy when he realizes his faults in the eyes of the people of Thebes. He is overwhelmed with regret and shame. The memories rush on him, which is a rather cathartic occurrence both for the character and for the reader.