An explication is an explanation with a complication. More exactly, though, it’s a coherent analysis of a short literary text. This analysis should account for (1) the text’s primary or obvious meaning, that is, its literal meaning; (2) its secondary, implicit or deeper meanings, which may involve thinking about how the text relates to the work as a whole; and (3) the unique characteristics of its language how the language is organized, what images, figures of speech, diction it uses. An explication relates (3) to (1) and (2), showing how the particular qualities of language help to create the primary and secondary meanings of the text. An explication does NOT simply paraphrase the text or offer a plot summary. DO NOT go through the text word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence (though you SHOULD do this when brainstorming and collecting ideas for the paper). Rather, your explication will have an argument, which is your interpretation or reading of the text, one that would not be obvious to any intelligent reader of the text. Your thesis will focus your reading of the text, and will help you select which elements of the text you wish to discuss. Think of your thesis as your unique interpretation of the text, and your essay as your best attempt to persuade your reader of your interpretation.
How do I write an explication?
(1) Read and reread the text. Photocopy it so you can mark it up. Take notes recording everything that comes into your mind as you read.
(2) Attempt to paraphrase the text translating it into simple language that conveys the basic meaning.
(3) Look up in the Oxford English Dictionary any words you do not fully understand; research any historical events or terms that you are not familiar with. You must have a thorough understanding of these words, people, places and events if you are to delve deeper into the meaning of the text.
(4) Note the distinctive verbal features found in the text. What kinds of words are used? What images? Are there any metaphors or other figures of speech? The Close Reading Guidelines below will help get started with this analysis. Some crucial questions are listed below.
(5) Who is speaking in the text? What is being revealed about the character or narrator through his/he speech?
(6) What other characters are introduced? What is their significance?
(7) What is the setting of the text? Does it matter to the meaning of the story?
(8) What is the time frame referred to in the text? What is its significance?
(9) Now you are in position to begin to think about the deeper meaning of the text. What themes and arguments do they raise? How do they relate to the entire book?
(10) Begin to collect evidence, and to write your explication, suggesting what complicated meanings the author is trying to convey.
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