Catharsis Examples In Literature

What is Catharsis?

Catharsis is the process of releasing and thereby providing relief from strong or repressed emotions. It involves both an intense emotional experience as well as the action that brings insight and positive change. Catharsis allows the people to express and relinquish the emotions like stress, anxiety, trauma and grief in a constructive way. It occurs during the therapy, while creating art, through activities like exercise or even just by talking to a friend. The goal is to gain a fresh perspective and move forward in a healthy way.

Common Examples of Catharsis

Here are some common examples of catharsis:

  • Finally opening up in therapy left me with a tangible sense of release after keeping my feelings bottled up for so long.
  • Translating painful memories into art has always helped me find clarity and resolution during difficult times.
  • The act of writing and delivering a funeral speech provided comfort and closure after losing a parent – it enabled me to process tremendous grief.
  • Seeing my patient break down with emotion showed she was starting to work through deep-seated trauma she had kept hidden away.
  • Releasing frustration by yelling into a pillow can feel liberating when stress becomes completely overwhelming.
  • Channeling nervous energy into fitness provides an outlet that leaves me calmer and with a clearer mind.
  • Listening to stirring music lets me fully experience then move through sadness and come out the other side renewed.
  • A movie scene that profoundly resonates with my own sorrow can make me feel understood and gain new perspective.

Examples of Catharsis in literature


“Hamlet” by Shakespeare

“To be, or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles And by opposing end them.”

Here, Hamlet is grappling with whether to take action or remain passive in the face of profound suffering. His impassioned questioning externalizes an internal struggle This speech represents an emotional release. It is a way for Hamlet to channel frustration and despair through language. As he ponders the meaning of life and death, nobility and action, he provides himself and the audience the momentary catharsis through dramatic expression of inner turmoil. A man has overcome by indecision pour out his anxious thoughts, which allows him temporary clarity. In that sense, the speech crystallizes Hamlet’s conflicts and serves as a pressure valve at a critical point when taking action seems both necessary and impossible.


“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë

“May she wake in torment!” he cried, with frightful vehemence, stamping his foot, and groaning in a sudden paroxysm of ungovernable passion.

The above passage shows the intense moment when Heathcliff unleashes long-bottled fury and anguish over Catherine’s death as he stands at her grave. His visceral outpouring of grief and bitterness crying out for her ghost to “wake in torment,” channels overwhelming emotions that provide a dramatic catharsis. After repressing his passions in life and harboring resentment against those who kept them apart, Heathcliff’s climactic outburst acts as a release valve. His wrenching words, physical gesture of stamping his foot, even notating his ‘paroxysm of ungovernable passion’ emphasize the purging of obsessive and roiling feelings through this vivid scene. This depiction provides insight about the self-destructive nature of bottled-up emotions when left unresolved.


“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë

“Gentle reader, may you never feel what I then felt! May your eyes never shed such stormy, scalding, heart-wrung tears as poured from mine!”

Jane directly addresses the reader after an intensely emotional scene where she cries inconsolably over losing Mr. Rochester. Her outpouring of distress provides dramatic catharsis by giving expression to profound grief that mirrors an actual thunderstorm raging outside. Brontë establishes this climactic ejection of sadness and heartache as a universal human experience. Jane achieves temporary relief and clarity from unleashing turbulent feelings she had previously repressed after leaving Rochester.


“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous vermin.”

Gregor’s startling physical transformation into an insect externalizes the anxious inner turmoil he feels about work, family responsibilities and his inability to control his life. His metamorphosis provides an emotional release through an extreme symbolic externalization of stress.


“Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott

“She leaned her arms on her mother’s knee, and laid her face on them, sobbing out her pain without restraint.”

Louisa May Alcott employs the character of Jo March as a means of demonstrating catharsis. Specifically, Jo has just received distressing news about her sister Beth’s worsening illness. Overcome by emotion, Jo seeks comfort in her mother’s presence, leaning on her for both physical and emotional support. She lays her head in the lap of her mother and is freely sobbing without holding back. It expresses that Jo is able to release the intense feelings of pain, fear and grief she is experiencing in that moment.

Alcott’s depiction of Jo openly expresses her distress, which allows for an emotional release of those strong, pent-up feelings. The unrestrained crying has a cathartic effect for Jo in the passage. Through describing the profound comfort of being vulnerable in a moment of emotion, the passage enables catharsis for the reader as well. Alcott’s portrayal of Jo’s raw grief provides that vicarious emotional release. So in short, the quote encapsulates both the character’s as well as the reader’s catharsis through the unrestrained display of internal anguish.

catharsis examples in literature

Catharsis Examples in Pop-Culture

Here are the examples of catharsis in pop culture:

1- Silver Linings Playbook (Movie)

“What my doctor say is, have some kind of positive physical activity when I’m having an episode.”

After Pat throws a book through a window due to his untreated bipolar disorder, Tiffany calms him through an impromptu dance routine. This shows how Pat achieves catharsis of repressed emotions through positive physical outlets with empathetic support.

2- “All Too Well” by Taylor Swift (Song)

“I’ll get older but your lovers stay my age”

Swift unleashes years of unresolved anguish through cathartic lyrics after a break-up. Her ability to poetically purge complex emotions by “naming them” provides release as well as perspective.

3- Broadway musical Rent

“There is no future, there is no past. I live this moment as my last!”

As the bohemian characters sing mournfully about loss and death, they achieve catharsis by celebrating community and living meaningfully “in the moment”. This climactic number provides spiritual release through their passionate expressions of emotion.

Related Terms

I- Purgation

Purgation refers to the act of cleansing or purifying. In relation to catharsis, it refers to the release and elimination of pent-up emotions such as guilt, anxiety, or trauma. The purgation aspect of catharsis brings relief through this “cleansing”. For example, crying is considered a purgative catharsis because tears help purge sadness and pain.

II- Abreaction

Abreaction is the discharge and relief of repressed emotions through verbalization or action. It is similar to catharsis in that uncomfortable emotions are released. However, abreaction specifically points to the processing of past trauma whereas catharsis has broader applications. An abreactive response to a triggering event helps diffuse the residual emotional energy left over from earlier trauma. Screaming into a pillow would be considered emotional abreaction.

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