All terms

What is an Objective Correlative?

A set of objects, a situation, or a chain of events that serves as the manifestation of a particular emotion.

The Emotional Backbone: Unpacking the Objective Correlative

The objective correlative is a concept that serves as an anchor through which emotions can be conveyed in creative writing.

The term was first coined by T.S. Eliot in 1919 in his essay on Hamlet, where he argued that the play's emotional effect came from its objective correlative - a set of objects and images that represented the mental and emotional state of the characters and conveyed it to the audience.

For instance, if a character in a story feels deeply sad, the objective correlative would be a physical manifestation of that sadness, like a dark, stormy sky or a withered rose. This creates an emotional parallel between the character and the surrounding environment, allowing the reader to experience the same mood and emotions as the character.

The importance of the objective correlative lies in its ability to anchor the emotions conveyed in a text to a tangible, relatable object or situation. This allows readers to connect with characters on a deeper level and experience their emotions in a more vivid and powerful way. So next time you're crafting your next great work of fiction, remember: the objective correlative is the emotional backbone of your story.

The Objective Correlative in Action: Examples from Literature

Here are two examples of the objective correlative used in literature:

The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy

The objective correlative is used to convey the protagonist's sense of isolation and loneliness: 'The fields were sere [dry and withered], the pastures trampled with the wreckage of the night's storm...Lonely egrets would flap past, their size exaggerated by their proximity.' The loneliness of the protagonist is expressed through the withered landscape and the solitary flight of the egrets.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The objective correlative is used to represent the increasing madness of the protagonist: 'The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds...the sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint...and the great wall of vegetation...seemed to whisper, not to me but to the darkness in general.' The ominous landscape reflects the madness of the protagonist as he becomes increasingly consumed by the darkness around him.