In Which We Use the Term ‘Objective Correlative’ w/o a Trace of Self-Conscious Irony


TRAPPED | Refe Tuma.

Little Fiction.

⇒Among a handful of other things, my $45K MFA degree has taught me the definitions for the following high-brow literary terms:

  • Parataxis
  • Clinamen
  • Negative Capability
  • Hypotaxis

That’s about $11K per term, if you do the math. But I’m not here to discuss the value of your average MFA degree. Rather, I want to talk about a phenomenal little story in the aptly named Little Fiction that I just read. As part of this discussion of Refe Tuma’s “Trapped,” I would like drop a little MFA-level science on you with the following term: objective correlative.

An objective correlative is a literary term referring to a symbolic article used to provide explicit, rather than implicit, access to such traditionally inexplicable concepts as emotion or color.

E.g.: the protagonist is depressed and it starts raining.

E.g.: Carrie gets totally pissed off and the school catches fire.

E. one more g.: Some lucky guy is invited up for “coffee” and across town in a baseball stadium someone hits a home run.

These may not be the best examples of the objective correlative strategy, so don’t put too much stock in this discussion of mine. After all, they’ll give a website to anyone these days.

But I want to say maybe two or three paragraphs on the subject of Refe Tuma’s amazing story “Trapped,” in which a guy and his significant other and the shut-in across the street are among the last residents of their neighborhood–which has been overtaken by a plague of mice that reaches Biblical proportions. Mice. Not cute and cuddly Disney mice, but Eww-Get-It-Away-From-Me mice. They’re everywhere, these mice, so the guy and his wife/girlfriend (can’t remember which, or if it even says) are forced to throw out and burn their couch and bed and they sleep in a hammock so they’ll be elevated above the chaos of rodents all around and below them. There are mice in the walls and the furniture and the yard and so on, as far as the eye can see.

Naturally, I’m interested in the author’s use of mice in this piece, which is extremely menacing in the same way that a tornado or hurricane is menacing; it’s nothing personal, just an act of nature. The mice in this story create an oppressive, increasingly claustrophobic effect on the characters and reader.

Of course, this isn’t a story about a freak mouse invasion–however impeccably grotesque the author has rendered it. Rather, this is a story about a relationship, between the man and the woman, and also between the couple and the shut-in on their street. And what does an apocalyptic infestation of rodents say about the relationships in this story? Nothing good, we can assume.

Read the story over at Little Fiction!

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