The Objective-Correlative & Characterization: Graham Greene’s The Honorary Consul

I have to admit that didn’t love this book. Certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Greene’s masterpiece of humor and suspense, Our Man in Havana. The Honorary Consul is a quieter book, to put it nicely, oddly cold and lifeless in places, and my sense is that it was marred by Greene’s perceived need, late in his career, to “say something” meaningful about the Catholic Church. Still, as with anything by Greene it’s extremely well written, and I did notice an instructive instance of the objective-correlative that was used in association with one of the novel’s minor characters:

His secretary was a pretty young woman called Ana. She was dauntingly efficient and the daughter of an influential official in the public health department. Doctor Plarr sometimes wondered why he had never been tempted to make love to her. Perhaps he hesitated because of the white starched uniform which she had adopted of her own wish—it would creak or crackle if one touched her; she might have been connected to a burglar alarm.

Interesting way of putting things, no? That uniform, like a burglar alarm. And a few pages later, it comes back:

She ignored his flippancy. “If you will leave those two cards on my desk when you have finished . . .” Her dress crepitated as she went out, like a nocturnal insect.

I think you’re probably getting the picture. The uniform dress is an objective-correlative for Dr. Plarr’s evolving feelings for Ana, which are, to say the least, pretty charged. Using it allows Greene to portray those feelings without resorting to “telling,” in an imagistic way that has the effect of rooting us imaginatively in the story, while at the same time deploying metaphors that give us intriguingly resonant insights into our main character.

All of which serves as a reminder that the objective-correlative is a nice tool for any writer’s toolbox, particularly when it comes to character creation.

For more on uses of the objective-correlative, click here. For more on skillful characterization, click here.