The term “Objective Correlative” is a literary concept coined by T.S. Eliot in his essay “Hamlet and His Problems” published in 1919. It refers to a technique used in literature to evoke specific emotions or meanings through the use of external, objective objects, events, or situations that serve as symbols or representations of internal states or experiences.
According to Eliot, there are certain emotions and experiences that are difficult to directly express or describe in words. These complex feelings may include love, longing, grief, or despair. Eliot proposed that by using an objective correlative, a writer can create a tangible and concrete representation of these abstract emotions, enabling the reader to experience and understand them more vividly.
The objective correlative functions as a kind of symbolic equation or formula, where an external object, event, or situation is carefully chosen to correspond to a particular emotional or psychological state. It acts as a bridge between the internal and external worlds, allowing the reader to grasp the intended meaning or feeling more effectively. An effective objective correlative triggers an immediate and powerful emotional response in the reader. It evokes a sense of empathy or resonance, enabling the reader to connect with the characters or the themes of the work on a deeper level. By using specific and carefully chosen images, actions, or objects, the writer creates a tangible representation of the underlying emotions or experiences they seek to convey.
For example, in Eliot’s own poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” the protagonist’s feelings of anxiety, indecision, and social alienation are conveyed through a series of vivid and evocative images, such as “yellow fog,” “half-deserted streets,” and “restless nights in one-night cheap hotels.” These images create a palpable atmosphere and a sense of unease, serving as the objective correlative for the character’s internal state of mind.
The objective correlative is not limited to poetry but can also be employed in other forms of literature, including novels, plays, and even film. It allows writers to communicate complex emotions and experiences in a more accessible and evocative manner. However, the concept of the objective correlative has been subject to criticism and debate. Some argue that it is overly reductive and restricts the reader’s interpretive freedom by providing a predetermined emotional response. Others believe that it is a valuable tool for enhancing the impact and clarity of a writer’s intended meaning.
Regardless of the debates surrounding its usage, the objective correlative remains a significant concept in literary analysis and interpretation. It offers writers a means to create powerful and resonant works that evoke profound emotional responses in readers, allowing for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the complexities of human experience.