Catharsis refers to an emotional release for the characters in a literary work, or an emotional release for the audience of the work. In Greek, the word catharsis literally means "cleansing". The emotional release that characters or the audience experience during the catharsis can lead to a sense of forgiveness and renewal. Most tragic works of literature end with catharsis.
1. A man who killed someone in a drunk driving incident experiences catharsis by volunteering in a children's shelter.
2. Playing the piano is a catharsis for a tired, busy mother after a long day of work.
Examples of Catharsis from Literature and Film
1. In Oedipus Rex, a Greek tragedy, Oedipus unknowingly marries his mother. At the end of the play, when the tragic mistake has been revealed, Jacosta commits suicide and Oedipus gouges his eyes out. Both characters experience release. Jocasta, by seeking release in death; Oedipus by doing penance by gouging out his own eyes.
2. At the end of Romeo and Juliet, the two lovers have sought release from their "crossed" love by killing themselves. The audience experiences a catharsis when the two families bury the hatchet.
3. In Julius Caesar, Brutus experiences catharsis, also, through suicide. He rids himself of the guilt of betraying Caesar.
4. Many audience members who watch film versions of true events, such as Flight 93, discuss how the experience is cathartic. Flight 93 is a film about the crashing of United Flight 93 in a field in Pennsylvania on September 11th. Somehow, watching the progress of the events is cathartic for audience members.