Examples of Melodrama in Literature

What is Melodrama?

The melodrama refers to the genre of the literature, theatre and movies characterized with dramatized characters, emotions and over culturally convenient storyline. It is designed to appeal the feelings and sentiments of the audience.

The term “melodrama” was coined in the last decade of the 18th and the first two decades of the 19th centuries, which means “music drama”. It indicates the importance of music to enhance the emotional impact of the piece of work.

Melodrama includes the clear differences between good and evil, intense emotions, dramatic action and moral contrasts. It employs exaggerated situations and emotions as a way of forcing emotions from the audience into the furnished direction.

Importance of Melodrama

Through melodrama, literature and other forms of storytelling methods, people obtain their emotional display of conscience and features of their experience.

Due to its exaggerated content option it makes complex human feelings and ethical issues that are easy to digest for the audience.

Because melodrama is ethically transparent, audiences are able to examine the narrative’s themes – justice, sacrifice, redemption – in a heightened manner.

Melodrama appeals to the emotion and an effective way of social commentary. It always concerns the present and the existing social misconducts, declaring these issues in a highly theatrical manner.

Thus, melodrama as a method for engaging the readers on the emotional level, makes them more sensitive to the suffering of the characters and can provoke the desire in them to look at the world and be a part of it.

Examples of Melodrama in Literature

1- “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe

“O, Missis! do pity me! I was brought up in the country where they never saw a nigger before. O, do pity me, Missis! Do something for me, won’t you?” said the girl, looking up earnestly.

Before Miss Ophelia had time to answer, the door was thrown open, and a beautiful quadroon girl, richly dressed, bounded into the room. In a moment she was at the young mulatto’s side.

“O, Topsy, you poor creature!” she exclaimed, indignantly; “what’s this?”

“Why, she asked me if I wouldn’t jump over the broomstick, and I told her I wouldn’t; and then she threw me down and kicked me,” said the child, getting up, rubbing her knees.

“Well, she’ll have to learn to mind,” said Miss Ophelia, as she drew her smoothly into the room. “Come with me, and I’ll show you what you are to do.”

The passage employs a considerable degree of intensity in terms of the emotions that the characters convey and the overall drama of the scene. It’s goal is to make the readers sympathize and outrage.

To do so, Stowe employs elements typical of melodrama in order to determine the audience’s attitudes towards slavery and encourage them to spread compassion and make a change.

The exaggerated depiction of the characters’ suffering and clear demarcation of good and evil characters gives message against slavery.

2- “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë

“I cannot live without my soul!”

He dashed his head against the knotted trunk, and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears.

I observed several splashes of blood about the bark of the tree, and his hand and forehead were both stained; probably the scene I witnessed was a repetition of others acted during the night.

It hardly moved my compassion – it appalled me; still, I felt reluctant to quit him so.

“But the country folks, if you had told them such a story, would have called you mad, Heathcliff,” I said. “And, I might have had a chance to be as rich as he was, but I never would have been so homely.”

In Wuthering Heights, the strong emotions and vicious actions have been shown in a dramatic way typical of melodrama.

Through Heathcliff’s suffering and despair, both elemental forces of human spirit are depicted vividly; hence, the story is emotionally provocative.

The use of passion and enhanced actions force the readers into active participation, whilst underlining the lovers’ tragic fate.

3- “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens

‘Oh, my dear brother!’ exclaimed Rose, folding her hands, as she looked upward, ‘do not let this horrid crime be perpetrated before you leave this place. Do not turn a deaf ear to my last appeal. You will be saved and pardoned. Come back – come back and save me, too!’

‘I am that timid girl, that loving child, who would have died, a thousand deaths, before she would have resisted you for one instant. I am your fond sister, Oliver – your fond sister.’

‘Sister!’ cried Sikes, interposing roughly. ‘Are you mad? Do you know what you are talking of?’

‘It is not madness, but the hand of God which has brought me here. Take him back, and let me die; for I am innocent.’

‘Sikes,’ said the dying woman, turning her face towards him, and clasping her hands convulsively, ‘will you listen to me for a moment?’

Dickens uses melodramatic features which helped him to build the intensity of the characters’ emotions and the moral essence of the story.

Melodrama make the readers engage themselves with the characters and the flow of the events by portraying serious emotions such as pleas by characters especially when in trouble, conveying themes such as innocence, guilt, and redemption.

The use of intensified emotions and the clear separation of the good characters from the evil ones are characteristic of melodrama – elements that contribute to the strengthening of the story’s emotional charge and its didacticism.

4- “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens

“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Sydney Carton’s final words as he faces the guillotine encapsulate the melodramatic sacrifice he makes for love and honor. The heightened language and noble sacrifice are classic elements of melodrama, emphasizing themes of redemption and selflessness.

The passage reflects the use of melodramatic contrasting language and motifs connected to the Carton’s final action.

The repetition and elevated diction arouse the nobility and pathos of Carton’s choice, which is an important and meaningful image in the development of the story.

This is melodramatic last stage in the development of the plot which emphasizes the novel’s principal messages – the concepts of sacrifice, redemption, and the victory of love and honor over sinful nature.

5- “East Lynne” by Ellen Wood

Lady Isabel sank back on the sofa, giving vent to a long, wailing sigh. Oh, the weakness of her heart! She had yet to taste the bitter cup to the dregs.

Barbara turned to face her, standing perfectly still, her hands lightly clasped before her. Her blue eyes, with their dark lashes, were bent earnestly on Lady Isabel’s face; her lovely lips parted, showing the gleaming teeth within.

‘Do you think it was a slight thing for me to endure?’ she resumed, in a voice of passionate earnestness. ‘When I knew how you had injured me; when I saw how you had crept into his heart – my husband’s heart; when I knew how false he was to me, and you the cause, can you imagine that it was a light grief for me to bear?’

East Lynne is regarded as the genuine melodrama filled in the cast of the passionate emotions and contradictions of the characters and the sensational plot turns.

In Lady Isabel’s reactions throughout the episode, and barbaras passionate confrontation of her husband, typical elements of melodrama are visible.

Through the emotional amplification and the use of a moral and intensified language, the audience is captured and the characters’ turmoil makes the story memorable.

Literary Terms Related to Melodrama

1. Hyperbole

Hyperbole is a method of amplification of certain features of an object or event with the help of distortions that intentionally overstate the truth.

It creates dramatic effect on the audience by amplifying the emotions and actions.

This exaggeration can make the stakes of the narrative seem higher and the character’s feeling more intensified, hence creating melodrama.


Hyperbole is seen in Oliver Twist, in which Dickens goes to an extent of exaggerating on the plight of the protagonists.

For example, when explaining the existence of workhouse, he observes, “So they established the rule that all poor people should have the alternative of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it.” This exaggeration emphasizes the cruelty as well as the inhumanity of the workhouse system.

See also: Examples of Maxim in Literature

2. Pathos

Pathos is a kind of a coaxing that is usually used to appeal the emotions of the readers, and these emotions include pity, sympathy or sorrow.

The appeal to emotions characterized by pathos stands as a significant component of the melodramatic storytelling, which invites the spectators into the characters’ suffering and any type of feelings they may go through.

Thus, pathos contributes to the manifestation of the melodramatic aspects of the story because such reactions strengthen the influence of feelings on the perception of events.

Examples of Melodrama in Literature
Examples of Melodrama in Literature

Melodrama is one of the important genres in literature that focuses on expression of outvoiced emotions, the motifs of good and evil, and the use of various dramatic components in the given work to stir up and appeal to the audience. It is important because it is capable of putting in layman’s terms, human emotions and ethical quandaries, while reader may derive a form of closure from them.

These lamentations are made even more appealing by employing hyperbole and pathos as literary elements, which can heightened the pathetic appeal towards the readers. Thus, melodrama continues to be fascinating and popular as an element and type of literature as it can evoke human emotions and mirror the reality which people have to face.

See also: Literary Devices That Start With M

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