Definition of Melodrama
Melodrama is a subgenre of drama, which is an exaggerated form of this genre. Melodramas deal with sensational and romantic topics that appeal to the emotions of the common audience. Originally, it makes use of melody and music, while modern melodramas may not contain any music. In fact, a melodrama gives preference to a detailed characterization where characters are simply drawn, one-dimensional or stereotyped. Typically, it uses stock characters including a heroes, heroines and villains.
Melodrama Examples from Literature
Noel Coward’s heartbreaking drama, Still Life, Brief Encounter, tells the story of two people seemed destined to stay unhappy. In the film, a leading role and married woman Laura Jesson encounters Alec Harvey, a doctor in train station, and both decides to meet once in a week at the same station. Sooner they begin to feel delighted in each other’s company and share everything. Eventually they come to realize that they are in love with each other. Their realization, however, leads to a tragic notion that they cannot leave their family, which finally ends up in unrequited love with their lives doomed into despondency.
A blend of melodrama and film noir, Mildred Pierce, is based on James M. Cain’s novel of the same title. The story is about a struggling waitress, Mildred, who wishes to provide a better life to her daughters than hers after separating from her husband. For this, she takes help of a real estate agent after which she becomes the owner of a restaurant. She tries to make her older daughter to tie the knot with a formerly wealthy man, Monte Beragon, to improve her financial position and win back her alienated daughter Vera. Instead, Vera starts enjoying playboy lifestyle of Monte and drain the whole money of her mother, leading to Mildred’s financial ruin and murder of Monte. Consequently, Vera goes to jail. This shows the type of melodrama created to impact the audience.
Christopher Morley’s novel, Kitty Foyle, has also been adapted into such a film. The author narrates the story in the form of a melodrama. The film stars Kitty as a saleswoman, who desires to make her living on her own, nevertheless, marries Wyn Strafford. Due to class differences, the couple separates very soon. Then she makes a relationship with a doctor, Mark Eisen, but their relationship could not turn out to be successful. She again decides to marry Wyn when he comes back. Though the class difference remains there, he wishes to live with Kitty. Kitty suffers a lot and goes back to join sales job. Thus, audience sees many ups and down in Kitty life through this classic melodrama.
Based on the novel, Now Voyager, by Olive Higgins Prouty, this melodrama tells the story of a woman, Charlotte Vale, who suffers a lifetime repression due to her domineering mother, who finally breaks her free at the request of Charlotte’s psychiatrist. Thus, she takes a voyage where she encounters Jerry Durrance, a loyal father and loveless husband whose wife is manipulative and jealous. Charlotte pulls back Jerry’s emotionally disturbed daughter from the brink and then enters into another relationship, which could not push Jerry out of her mind. By the end, though Charlotte could not get her desired man, she becomes self-assured and more confident.
A film director, William Wyler has adapted Emily Bronte’s classic and popular novel, Wuthering Heights, into a film. The novel is a sweeping romantic melodrama in which love and class division are destined to become a tragedy. The film stars Heathcliff as an orphan, who is taken into a wealthy family where he falls in love with Cathy, his foster sister. Though Cathy also feels the same for him, nevertheless, she marries a wealthy neighbor, leaving Heathcliff with no choice. Returning as a wealthy man after some years, the sparks begin to fly again for Cathy and vengeful Heathcliff marries Geraldine Fitzgerald, sister of Cathy’s husband in order to arouse her jealousy. By the end, Catherine dies and Heathcliff follows her as he could not brook this loss any more.
Function of Melodrama
Melodrama is an exaggerated form of drama, where authors enhance the storylines in order to tug the heartstrings of the audience. Typically, these types of dramas focus on sensational plots that revolve around tragedy, unrequited love, loss, heightened emotion, featuring long-suffering protagonists, especially females attempting in vain to overcome impossible odd. Its purpose is to play on the feelings and emotions of the audience. We see the use of melodramatic plots more often in films, theaters, T.V, radio, cartoons and comics.