Objective Correlative

Objective Correlative

            I have all of Ernest Hemingway’s writings plus a number of books about his writing. One of the first things that spoke to me was his use of the “objective correlative”, a term introduced to writers by T.S. Elliott in a criticism of Hamlet by Shakespeare. 

            It basically stands for the idea that a character’s emotions can be represented by events or things. Hemingway seemed to take it to its extreme. An example would be a depressed or sad person sitting at breakfast and looking down at the yellow yoke from a fried egg, slowly and lugubriously sliding across the plate.

One of my favorite writers, Howard Bahr, a professor of literature from Mississippi, wrote the Black Flower, a civil war novel about the battle of Franklin. He described a wounded soldier sitting on the floor inside a building where soldiers arms and legs were being amputated and thrown out a window, the pile growing. 

            The soldier, confronted by the uselessness of war and the continuing battles between the North and the South, pushing each other back and forth in what appeared to be an endless, senseless form of battle, watched a spider climb up, cross over and drop down again and again, over and over, not forming a web but engaged in a futile attempt at one. 

            As many teachers of writing will tell you, show me, do not tell me.