The Objective Correlative

This article explores the origin, definition, characteristics, and examples of the objective correlative in literature, highlighting its significance in conveying emotions and themes. 

1. Origin of the Term: 

The term "objective correlative" was popularized by T.S. Eliot in his essay "Hamlet and His Problems" (1919). Eliot used the term to describe a set of objects, situations, or events that evoke a particular emotion in the reader, by providing an external equivalent to an internal feeling. 

2. Definition: 

An objective correlative refers to a literary technique where a set of objects, events, or situations are used to evoke a particular emotion in the reader. This concept relies on the idea that specific external elements can be correlated to internal emotions, creating a bridge between the character's feelings and the reader's experience. 

3. Characteristics/Features: 

Concrete Imagery: The objective correlative uses specific, tangible details to evoke emotions, avoiding abstract descriptions. 

Consistency: The elements chosen as the objective correlative are consistent throughout the text, reinforcing the intended emotion. 

Symbolism: The objective correlative often employs symbols that resonate with the character's emotional state. 

Universality: While the objective correlative is specific, it also resonates with universal human experiences, making the emotions accessible to a broad audience. 

4. Examples: 

T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land": 

In this poem, Eliot uses the objective correlative extensively to depict the emotional and cultural desolation of post-World War I Europe. 

For instance, the image of "a heap of broken images" evokes a sense of fragmentation and loss.  "April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain." 

This passage contrasts the renewal of spring with the desolation of the land, evoking a complex mix of hope and despair. 

T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": 

The repeated references to the mundane and the trivial, such as "measured out my life with coffee spoons," serve as an objective correlative for Prufrock's feelings of insignificance and wasted time. 

 "In the room the women come and go Talking of Michelangelo." The casual, repetitive nature of this scene emphasizes Prufrock's sense of isolation and unimportance. 

T.S. Eliot's "Preludes": 

The grimy, urban imagery in this poem acts as an objective correlative for the spiritual emptiness and disillusionment of modern life. 

 "The winter evening settles down With smell of steaks in passageways. Six o'clock. The burnt-out ends of smoky days." 

This vivid depiction of a dreary, repetitive urban environment captures the emotional exhaustion and hopelessness of the characters. 

The objective correlative is a powerful literary technique that allows writers to evoke specific emotions in readers through carefully chosen objects, events, or situations. By providing a concrete equivalent to abstract feelings, this technique creates a deep connection between the reader and the character's internal experiences. Understanding and recognizing the objective correlative in literature can enhance readers' appreciation of the emotional depth and complexity in literary works.

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