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The Objective Correlative : Measured Emotional Impact

What Is an Objective Correlative?

An Objective Correlative is a tool, but not a true literary device. A tool used to link two or more elements in a narrative or poem (three or more elements is typical). It has been used in film as well to great effect. It creates a connection between an object and seemingly disparate elements, such as characters, events, emotions, or themes. The objective coordinative allows the writer to connect these different elements of the story world, creating a cohesive narrative that provides insight into the characters, themes, and events. Its 'objective' however is emotional connection and reader experience. And they can pack a punch. 

It is also the main tool for emotional affect.

n. objective correlative: the artistic and literary technique of representing or evoking a particular emotion by means of symbols that objectify that emotion and are associated with it

For example, in a poem, the objective correlative might link the image of a tree to the emotions of the speaker. In a novel, the objective correlative might link the tree to actions of a character, to their motivations or psychological state. In our case here -- since it is already on the field -- our object will be the tree. An apple tree as it happens. It is an elder apple tree.

The old apple tree stood at the edge of the garden, its gnarled branches reaching out to the horizons more than towards the sky above; hooking twisted fingers reaching. Its trunk was rough and scarred, the bark rough and weathered, and its leaves were few and far between

The Objective Correlative helps to create a deeper and more complex narrative, allowing the reader to see the connections between different elements and understand their significance.
  1. A character's inner thoughts and emotions as they experience a major event.
  2. The parallel journey of two characters as they explore different aspects of the same theme.
  3. The contrast between a character's perception of reality and the reality itself.
  4. The evolution of a relationship between two characters over time.
  5. A character's struggle with personal identity and their place in the world.
  6. The tension between the beauty and cruelty of nature.
  7. The relationship between humans and technology and the impact it has on society.
  8. The struggle between tradition and progress in a society.
  9. The power dynamics between characters in a group or community.
  10. The tension between what is seen and what is hidden, and the consequences of revealing the truth.

The girl planted that tree with her grandmother. when she was very young. Six. Many years later, her father wanted to chop it down and uproot it because of his plans to expand their house. The trees roots were simply to strong to risk them damaging the foundation. She begged her father not to kill the tree, and tried to express what it meant to her. Her father gave in. He told her it was a slim chance, but he would try to move the tree. It would all fall to the tree's taproot, and how damaged it became during the process. 

The move was a success. 

These are fond emotions attached to the tree. Memories of strife and successes. Some small, some as large as the sky in Central Texas, on the flats. Now the tree is for much more than hearing birds in the morning or growing small tart apples. For the girl it is part of her family, a surrogate member she can sit under and read when she's feeling lonely and wants to be near her grandma again.

In high school music class she learned about the trichord. It was also called the Devil's Chord and for a time in the past it had been deemed illegal and vulgar to use or play, or even teach. The trichord produced a sound that felt unfinished and yearning. Played in a rhythm it became a driving force propelling the music forward and building. The teacher said that the running bass and guitar lines in Metallica's Sandman, was based on the trichord. 

At home she decided the tree embodied a tritone dissonance, its branches reaching for the horizons in opposing directions, creating a sense of instability and tension, with its twisted branches.  


Here are five examples of the contrast between a character's perception of reality and reality itself:
  1. A character who believes they are in control of their life, but in reality, they are being manipulated by others.
  2. A character who sees themselves as a hero, but in reality, their actions are causing harm to others.
  3. A character who thinks they are living in a perfect world, but in reality, they are living in a dystopian society.
  4. A character who perceives themselves as tough and unemotional, but in reality, they are struggling with inner turmoil.
  5. A character who sees the world as black and white, good and evil, but in reality, they are faced with complex moral gray areas.
Now we have a tree with memories, long summers, explorative literature journeys, family members, and several emotions. Some of them good, some not so good, some of them conflicts she hasn't worked out yet.

We don't mention the tree very often. Perhaps a mention every second or third chapter, while adding more baggage. Maybe a boy tried to carve their initials into the tree and she flipped out. Whatever it is we add we do so with subtlety and care.  

The objective coordinative is like building metaphors, only instead of helping to understand a lesson or to perceive a problem from another angle, it creates a building up of insight leading to the expression of a powerful emotional event.

Here near the end of our story, our OC is brisling with emotional weight and power. Nearly anything we do to it at this point is going to alter and refocus the whole experience of the story. For example, we have a car careen off the road and into the tree. A fire in the engine compartment spills out and brings the tree down to ash.

or... she's moving on, out into the world. In a locket she brings with her five of the black seeds from one of the small apples hanging, to plant at her new place. She tells her grandmother good-bye, and her mother, then leaves for the city.

or... she is standing outside looking at the tree during the night. She's lived a long life. It's not cold. She's comfortable and the sky is clear and crisp -- immaculate. Sharp and detailed she observes the planets and the moon above the tree. Then the tree, peacefully comes to blaze, and she knows that she has died in her sleep. 

Now our story ends. 

Another way of understanding this objective device is to match them up with Symbols and Frames. Symbols come to be use preloaded. Symbols have meaning -- otherwise they would not be considered Symbols in the literary sense. 

  • Moon: The moon is a symbol of femininity, mystery, and change.
  • Fog: The fog is a symbol of secrecy, uncertainty, and danger.
  • Planets: The planets are symbols of destiny, fate, and the unknown.
  • Kev blue eyes: The moon's blue eyes are a symbol of her otherworldliness and beauty.
  • Latria songs: The songs of worship are a symbol of the moon's power and influence.
  • Mercerized gown: The moon's luxurious gown is a symbol of her wealth and status.
  • Amber light: The amber light is a symbol of warmth and hope.
  • Bloated shadows: The bloated shadows are a symbol of darkness and fear.
The OC doesn't come with preloaded meaning. We don't snatch it off the shelf and toss it into the stew ready to brown and eat. 

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