The Importance of Being Emotional
In every great poem—in Shakespeare's plays, in Dante's Corn-
media, in Goethe's Faust—we must indeed pass through the
whole gamut of emotions. If we were unable to grasp the most
delicate nuances of the different shades of feeling, unable to
follow the continuous variations in rhythm and tone, if un-
moved by sudden dynamic changes, we could not understand
and feel the poem.
Ernst Cassirer, An Essay on Man
A good story makes us curious and suspenseful about what is going to happen; it makes us laugh and cry; and it may make us feel fear and anger, horror and disgust, love and compassion, indeed the whole repertoire of emotions in our culture. In this chapter I'll explain how the emotions function when we respond emotionally to characters and events in novels, plays, and movies. We'll see that emotion processes actually work just the same way when we respond to characters and events in novels, plays, and movies, as they do when we respond to people and events in real life.1 In this chapter I'll be explaining how our emotional responses to novels, plays, and movies help us to understand them, to understand characters, and grasp the significance of events in the plot. (And in Ch. 6 I'll be explaining how our emotional responses to novels, plays, and movies can also teach us about life itself.) I'll suggest that our emotions help us in the construction of a satisfactory summary reading of the novel or play or movie, or what is often called an 'interpretation'.