Catharsis is a Greek word that roughly translates to the purification and purgation of emotions. Though it can be used in varying formats, catharsis will usually be found purging negative emotions. Say a character or person had just found out some horrible news; to rid themselves of those negative emotions, they draw a picture or write a story, that’s catharsis. There are many more dilemmas that can be thought up to further explain catharsis, and with so many possibilities, there are probably times where the event is happy. Catharsis is used in most if not all literature, be it fictional or not. Heroes and tragic heroes alike struggle in their stories, and they almost always rid themselves of an emotion in some way or another. Catharsis is not only found in literature and film, but also in real life. Whenever someone draws a picture, writes a story, or plays games, they are ridding themselves of an emotion, usually negative, whether they know it or not. Sometimes the use of catharsis can change the entire feeling of a story and leave a bigger imprint on the audience. Catharsis has the ability to cause a connection between the audience and the character in whatever it is they’re watching or reading.
Plenty of entertainment contains a vast amount of catharsis, books, films, and even plays have shown a wonderful usage of catharsis. The play, Oedipus Rex, displays multiple forms of catharsis. An example of catharsis is when Oedipus finds out that his new wife is indeed his biological mother and that he was the one to have slayed the previous king, Laius. “And as for this marriage with your mother—have no fear. Many a man before you, in his dreams, has shared his mother’s bed. Take such things for shadows, nothing at all—Live, Oedipus, as if there’s no tomorrow!”(Sophocles, 1068-78). With this statement, Oedipus has his feelings associated with confusion cleared. Even though new feelings associated with his new knowledge would arise, he was still cleansed of his prior emotions. Another, much better example of catharsis in Oedipus Rex would be when Oedipus gouged his eyes out with Jocasta’s brooch, thus forth causing himself to suffer as much as the city did under his rule. “He struck his eyes again and yet again with the brooches. And the bleeding eyeballs gushed and stained his beard- no sluggish oozing drops but a black rain and bloody hail poured down.”(Sophocles, 1464-67). Upon gouging out his eyes, Oedipus invokes fear and pity from the audience. The audience feels bad for him, and fears for him as he brings himself great pain to pay for what he has done. Catharsis can cause an audience to feel great emotions as well, and doing so causes them to dive deeper into the story, losing his or herself in the play, film, or literature.
Films also have the ability to cause audiences to feel for the characters. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog does so using both song and storytelling. One example can be found very easily within the first few minutes of the first act, when Dr. Horrible is reading emails and comes across one mentioning the woman he is head-over-heels for, causing him to burst into a bittersweet song. “With my freeze ray, I will find the time to find the words to; tell you how, how you make, make me feel, what’s the phrase? Like a fool, kinda sick, special needs, anyways. With my freeze ray I will stop the pain”(Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Act 1). The audience feels pity for Dr. Horrible and his inability to confess to the girl he loves, and they begin to feel more connected to the character. Catharsis also plays a major role in the last song, everything you ever, which is set after the girl Dr. Horrible loves is killed by his death ray. “Here lies everything. The world I wanted at my feet, my victory’s complete. So hail to the king… Arise and sing. So your world’s benign, so you think justice has a voice, and we all have a choice. Well now your world is mine.”(Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Act 3). In this song, Dr. Horrible sings with a sad, slightly condescending tone. His tone and the lyrics together cause the audience to feel sadness and pain, they regret how he was never able to get the girl of his dreams, they are sad that she died and will never know of his true feelings for her. When catharsis is used properly, it can be a deadly weapon, and force tears out of anyone.
A whole range of strong emotions can be easily triggered by proper use of catharsis. Just like how when a person thinks life can’t possibly get worse it suddenly does, depressing catharsis usage may hang in the air much the same way bricks don’t, and then come crashing down on the audience just before they have enough time to put paper bags over their heads and lie down to wait for the inevitable feelings. Films, literature, and other such things can make a perfectly happy person begin blubbering like a baby and obsess over the character they now feel bad for. Catharsis can lead to great character development, like how Dr. Horrible went from being nervous and cute to losing all emotion and becoming stronger. Or even how Captain Hammer went from cringing at the sight of homeless people to turning a large building into a shelter for them. Catharsis always plays a relatively major role in story telling, and will continue to do so. World literature would most likely be much less important if not for the usage of catharsis because not as many people would enjoy reading. Reading opens up doors to new feelings, and it’s almost all thanks to catharsis.