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Melodrama and the psychology of tears
Projections: the journal for movies and mind
  • Jonathan FROME, University of Texas, Dallas
Document Type
Journal article
Publication Date
Berghahn Books Inc.
  • crying,
  • emotion,
  • melodrama,
  • narrative structure,
  • sadness,
  • Stella Dallas
Melodramas are sometimes called "tearjerkers" because of their ability to make viewers cry, but there is currently no detailed account of how they succeed at this task. Psychological research suggests that crying occurs when people feel helpless in the face of intense emotion. The emotion felt most intensely when watching melodramas is sadness, and sadness has a structure and specific features that determine its intensity. I describe the ways the conventions of melodrama fulfill the criteria for intense sadness and perceived helplessness that underlie these films' ability to make viewers cry. I illustrate this model with a detailed analysis of Stella Dallas (1937).
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Copyright © Berghahn Journals, 2014. Access to external full text or publisher's version may require subscription.
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Citation Information
Frome, J. (2014). Melodrama and the psychology of tears. Projections: the journal for movies and mind, 8(1), 23-40. doi: 10.3167/proj.2014.080103