Classical CriticismT.S. Eliot

Explaining the term “Objective Correlative” by T.S. Eliot

3 Mins read

The term “objective correlative” was first used by the American Painter Washington Allston in about 1840, however T. S. Eliot made it well-known and revived it in an influential essay on Hamlet in 1919. Eliot writes:

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an ‘objective correlative’; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.

If writers or poets, or playwrights need to create an emotional response within the audience, they have to discover a mixture of images, objects, or descriptions evoking the suitable emotion. The source of the emotional response is not in a single explicit factor, one explicit image, or one particular word. Instead, the feeling originates within the mixture of those phenomena after they seem together.

For an instance, think about the following scene in a hypothetical film. As the viewers watch the film, the scene reveals a dozen completely different individuals wearing black, holding umbrellas. The setting is a cemetery full of cracked grey headstones. The sky is darkening, and droplets of rain slide off the faces of stone angels like teardrops. A lone widow raises her veil, and she takes off her wedding ring and sets it on the headstone.

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Faint sobbing is audible someplace behind her within the crowd of mourners. As the widow begins to show away, a break seems within the clouds. From this gap within the grey sky, a single shaft of sunlight descends and falls on a inexperienced spot close to the grave, where a single yellow marigold is blossoming—the rain droplets glitter like gold on the flower petals. Then the scene ends, and the actor’s names begin to scroll throughout the screen on the end of the film.

Suppose I asked the viewers, “What was your emotional reaction after watching this scene?” Most of the watchers would say, “At first, the scene starts sad, but I felt new hope for the widow despite her grief.” Why will we all react the identical method emotionally? The director provided no voiceover explaining that there is still hope for the woman.

No character states this. The scene never even directly says the widow herself was sad at first. So what particularly evoked the emotional response? If we have a look at the passage, we will not determine any single object, or factor that by itself would essentially produce hope. Sunlight might evoke pretty much any optimistic emotion. A marigold by itself is fairly, however we do not often feel surges of optimism once we see one.

In the scene described above, our emotional response appears to originate not in a single word or image, or phrase however combining all these items, like emotional algebra. The objective correlative is that components for creating a particular emotional response merely by the presence of certain words, objects juxtaposed with each other.

The sum is bigger than the components. In this case, “black clothes + umbrellas + cracked gray headstones + darkening sky + rain droplets + faces of stone angels + veil + wedding ring + faint sobbing + turning away” is a creative components that equates with a complex sense of sadness. When that complicated sense of sorrow is mixed with “turning away + break in clouds + single yellow marigold blossoming + shaft of sunlight + green spot of grass + glittering raindrops + petals,” the new substances now create a unique emotional taste: hope. Good artists intuitively sense this symbolic or rhetorical potential.

T. S. Eliot suggests {that a} narrative succeeds and conjures up the right emotion. Then, the creator has discovered simply the proper objective correlative. The particular objective correlative would not work if a scene appears heavy-handed, or it invokes the wrong emotion from the one appropriate for the setting.

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