What is Catharsis? Definition, Examples of Catharsis in Literature?

Definition of catharsis: A catharsis is the intense emotional effect that a tragedy has on the audience.

What Does Catharsis Mean?

What is catharsis? Tragic dramas often evoke an emotional effect on the audience, and this is known as a catharsis.

Here are some examples of catharsis found in dramas:

In the film Marley and Me, the catharsis would be when the family dog, Marley, dies. At this point, the audience has an emotional response to a tragedy many people can relate to, the death of a family pet.

In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the catharsis occurs when the young lovers’ commit suicide. The audience has watched the intense love story of the two, and when their tragic flaw of impulse takes control, the viewers feel pity and shock towards the rash choice of suicide.

Modern Examples of Catharsis

Here are some modern examples of catharsis:

what is a catharsisIn the film Titanic, catharsis occurs with Rose’s love, Jack, dies in the ocean after the unsinkable ship crashes into an iceberg. The audience has followed Rose and Jack through their short journey of passion, and watching her lose the man she loves causes the audience to feel a purgation of emotion.

In the young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, the catharsis occurs when the protagonist, Hazel, loses her boyfriend, Augustus, to cancer. Throughout this story, the readers have invested their emotions in this young couple and have an intense emotional experience after this tragedy.

The Function of Catharsis

The purpose of catharsis is to give the audience a feeling of relief or purgation of emotions that have been built up throughout the course of a drama. Typically, this purgation occurs after a major catastrophe or tragic event that the protagonist encounters. This tragic event is commonly one that the audience can relate to such as death or loss.

How Catharsis is Used in Literature

Here are some examples of catharsis in literature:

catharsis definition and exampleIn William Shakespeare’s historical drama Julius Caesar, Caesar was betrayed by his comrade, Brutus, and was brutally murdered. Brutus feels an overwhelming amount of guilt due to this action and catharsis occurs when he commits suicide bringing a purge of emotions.

In Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, the main character, Willy Loman, evokes a sense of pity from the audience due to the understanding of the desire of achieving the American Dream. When he commits suicide, the audience experiences catharsis because the fear of not achieving personal goals and the effect of this is something that resides in many people.


Define catharsis in literature: Catharsis is an intense emotional effect that a tragedy has on its audience. Many times, the audience feels these emotions because they can relate to what the characters have experienced. Due to this pity or fear the audience has regarding the situations in the play, when catastrophe occurs, they feel a purge of emotions.

Final example:

In Sophocles’ drama Oedipus Rex, Oedipus has unknowingly married his own mother. Catharsis occurs when he realizes this tragic fact and gauges his own eyes out as a means of cleansing his guilt.