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The term catharsis is important for understanding the emotional experience of the audience when experiencing a narrative work of art. In general, such a work is considered aesthetically good if it is able to bring themes and plots to a resolution in such a way that the audience is able to experience this emotional release. However, catharsis may sometimes intentionally be denied for the sake of that very aesthetic effect


Catharsis basically means emotional release. Within a literary context, it refers to the experience that a reader has when an event within a narrative causes him to feel a fulfillment of the emotions that he has developed over the course of the narrative.  

The opposite of catharsis, then, would be a kind of emotional frustration.  

Examples of Catharsis

To help clarify the meaning of catharsis for you, here are a few examples of the term being used within a sentence. 

"The listener of the symphony felt that he had gone on an emotional roller coaster ride, culminating in a a joyful catharsis." 

"Due to the lack of resolution and catharsis at the end of the novel, the reader was upset and decided to write a negative review on Amazon." 

"The artist said that the lack of catharsis in his works was meant to be a mirror of the lack of real emotional fulfillment in modern society." 

In case you are still somewhat confused about the meaning of the term catharsis, here are a couple rules for your reference. 

1. Catharsis refers to the subjective experience of the audience of a work of art. Properly speaking, catharsis is not so much an aspect of the work itself, in and of itself, as of the effect that it can have on the audience. 

2. The term catharsis is almost always used is a positive way. This is because just about everyone likes the feeling of emotional release. It is almost impossible to imagine someone saying that they are unhappy about experiencing a feeling of catharsis, and that they would have preferred to have stay stressed and repressed instead. 


Catharsis essentially refers to a positive emotion; however, this does not necessarily mean that a work of art that fails to deliver catharsis is a failure. To be sure, many bad artists may fail to give the audience sense of catharsis simply because they are bad at what they do. However, highly talented artists may also opt to deny the audience catharsis for aesthetic reasons. For example, without catharsis, the audience may end up feeling upset and confused, or even nostalgic—and this may be exactly the effect that the artist actually wanted to have on others. 

Also, from the perspective of some psychoanalytical theories, artistic creativity could be understood as a sublimation of physical sexuality. In this context, a kind of analogy could perhaps be drawn between catharsis on the one hand and sexual fulfillment on the other. (And conversely, lack of catharsis could be correlated with sexual frustration.) Indeed, catharsis can be used outside of the literary context to refer to extremely fulfilling life experiences; and when it is used in this way, it is most often done within a romantic or sexual context. Catharsis can thus be understood as having both spiritual and physical dimensions, as do all powerful emotions.

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