Objective Correlative: Definition, Examples & Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


  1. What is Objective Correlative?
  2. History of Objective Correlative
  3. Why Objective Correlative Matters in Literature
  4. Examples of Objective Correlative in Literature
  5. How to Use Objective Correlative in Your Writing

Dive into the world of literature with a closer look at a powerful tool that prompts emotion in readers - the objective correlative. You may be scratching your head and asking, "What's that?" Well, you're in the right place! This blog is all about the objective correlative: its definition, history, significance in literature, examples, and techniques on how to use it effectively in your writing. So, let's start unraveling the mysteries of this intriguing literary tool.

What is Objective Correlative?

The term 'objective correlative' might sound fancy and complex, but its concept is quite simple and fascinating. The definition of objective correlative is a literary technique that writers use to evoke a specific emotional response from readers. It does this by presenting a series of objects, situations, or events that are strongly associated with the desired emotion. Now, let's break this down a bit further.

Understanding the Term

Think of the word 'correlative' — it's all about establishing a connection or relationship between two things. In 'objective correlative,' that relationship is between an emotion and the objects or situations that symbolize it. The 'objective' part refers to these tangible symbols that represent the emotion. So, in essence, objective correlative is about making feelings visible and tangible through symbolic objects or situations.

The Magic of Objective Correlative

So, why is the objective correlative such a big deal? Well, it's a magical way of showing, not telling, emotions in a story. Instead of saying a character is sad, a writer can use objective correlative to show a rainy day or a wilting flower to symbolize the character's sadness. This way, the emotion becomes more vivid and relatable, making the reader feel what the character is feeling.

Objective Correlative in Action

Let's imagine you're reading a story about a man who just lost his job. The writer could simply tell you that the man is upset, but that's a bit dull, right? Instead, the writer uses objective correlative and describes the man's dimly lit room, his untouched dinner, and the incessant ticking of a clock in the background. Suddenly, you can almost taste the man's despair and the slow, dragging passage of time. That's the power of objective correlative!

History of Objective Correlative

Just like every great idea, the concept of objective correlative didn't just pop up from nowhere. It has a rich history rooted in the literary world. Let's take a stroll down memory lane and trace the origins of this unique literary technique.

The Brainchild of T.S. Eliot

Objective correlative owes its birth to the legendary American-English poet, T.S. Eliot. Eliot first mentioned the term in his essay "Hamlet and His Problems" in 1919. He used it to describe how a set of objects, a situation, or a sequence of events within a literary work can stir specific emotions in the reader or audience.

Eliot's Influence

Eliot's idea of objective correlative was groundbreaking at the time. It challenged writers to think outside the box and find innovative ways to evoke emotions. Since then, the concept has been widely adopted and developed by many authors, becoming a fundamental tool in the realm of literature and drama.

Objective Correlative Through the Ages

Although the term was coined by Eliot in the early 20th century, the concept of objective correlative has been used by writers for centuries. Be it in Shakespeare's plays or Dickens' novels, we can spot instances where specific objects or settings have been used to mirror the emotional state of characters. So, in a way, Eliot just gave a name to an age-old technique that was always there!

Objective Correlative Today

Fast forward to today, and objective correlative is still going strong. It continues to be a powerful tool for writers to deepen their storytelling and create a more engaging reading experience. Whether it is in novels, short stories, or even in film and television, the echoes of Eliot's objective correlative can be heard loud and clear.

Why Objective Correlative Matters in Literature

Now that we've unearthed the history of objective correlative, it's time to delve into why it holds such a vital role in literature. Just why does this concept matter so much?

Evoking Emotion

The magic of literature lies in its ability to make us feel. A well-written story can make us laugh, cry, or even feel anger. This is where the definition of objective correlative shines. It's a tool for writers to evoke these emotions indirectly, using symbols, situations, or sequences. Instead of simply telling readers how a character feels, it shows them through objective correlatives.

Enhancing Understanding

Objective correlative also plays a big part in improving readers' understanding of the story. It helps to paint a clearer picture of the characters' inner world. By associating emotions with specific objects or events, readers can better grasp what's going on in the characters' minds.

Adding Depth to the Story

Stories without depth are like soup without salt—flat and uninteresting. Objective correlative is like that pinch of salt. It adds layers to the narrative, making it more complex and intriguing. It deepens the readers' engagement and keeps them hooked till the end.

Making Literature More Relatable

Last but not least, objective correlative makes literature more relatable. When readers see familiar objects or situations being used to express emotions, they can connect more easily with the story. It makes the characters' feelings more tangible and real, creating a more immersive reading experience.

Examples of Objective Correlative in Literature

Now that we've explored why objective correlative matters in literature, let's take a look at some examples of how it comes to life in various literary works. These examples will help you grasp the definition of objective correlative more firmly.

Hamlet's Soliloquy

A classic example is Hamlet's soliloquy in Shakespeare's "Hamlet". The famous "To be or not to be" speech is packed with objective correlatives. Hamlet's contemplation of mortality is signified through the symbol of a bare, unsheathed dagger.

The Great Gatsby

Another example can be found in F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby". The green light at the end of Daisy's dock, which Gatsby gazes at, serves as an objective correlative. It represents Gatsby's longing for Daisy and his unattainable dream.

Virginia Woolf's "To The Lighthouse"

In Virginia Woolf's "To The Lighthouse", the lighthouse itself is an objective correlative. It stands as a symbol of stability and permanence amidst the changing tides of life, reflecting the characters' internal struggles.

Emily Dickinson's Poems

Emily Dickinson often used objective correlative in her poetry. For instance, in her poem "Because I could not stop for Death", the carriage ride with Death serves as an objective correlative. It captures the speaker's journey towards the acceptance of mortality.

These examples illustrate how objective correlative, through the use of symbols and situations, can add depth to a narrative and evoke powerful emotions.

How to Use Objective Correlative in Your Writing

Having explored the definition of objective correlative and seen its application in famous literary works, you might be wondering: how can you use this tool in your own writing? Let's break it down into digestible steps.

Identify the Emotion You Want to Evoke

First and foremost, you need to decide on the emotion you want your readers to feel. Is it sadness, joy, fear, or perhaps a sense of longing? Once you've identified the emotion, you can start thinking about how to evoke it through objective correlative.

Choose an Object or Situation

Next, pick an object, situation, or even a series of events that can symbolize the emotion you're aiming to evoke. Remember, the power of objective correlative lies in its ability to show rather than tell. So instead of stating the emotion outright, you're going to convey it subtly through your chosen symbol or situation.

Integrate it into Your Story

Now it's time to weave your objective correlative into your narrative. It could be a recurring motif, a key event, or a symbolic object that appears at crucial moments. The key is to make it feel natural and seamlessly integrated into your story.

Test Its Effectiveness

Finally, test if your objective correlative works. Does it evoke the emotion you intended? If not, don't be afraid to revise and experiment until you find what works best for your story.

Remember, the use of objective correlative is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice to master. But with time and patience, you'll find that it can greatly enhance your storytelling and deepen your reader's emotional engagement.

If you're intrigued by the concept of Objective Correlative and want to further explore how to effectively incorporate it into your creative work, we recommend checking out 'Cutting Out Comparison' workshop by Joe Puxley. This workshop will provide you with techniques to focus on your own unique voice and ideas, helping you create compelling and emotionally resonant narratives.