Definition of Explication

Explication is a literary technique in criticism and research used for a close analysis of an excerpt or text taken from a lengthy piece of work. It originates from a French word, “explication de texte”, meaning explanation of a text. It is neither a summary, nor a rewording, nor a paraphrase, but a commentary that reveals the meanings of a literary work. It usually tells about figures of speech, tone, setting, connotations, point of views, themes, contrasts and anything that could add to the meanings of a text.

Examples of Explication in Literature

Example #1

Nathaniel Hawthorne opens his novel, The Scarlet Letter, with a paragraph by depicting a crowd assembled in front of a prison door, waiting for Hester Prynne to show up and her scarlet letter “A.” Author describes the crowd as a “throng”, suggesting a mob-like and densely packed group. The mood is not pleasant, but somber اس displayed by their “sad-colored” garments, hoods and gray hats. Also, an interesting description about the hats of men as “steeple-crowned” suggests that the people of the town are associated with the church that punished Hester. Another description about women “intermixed” with men means people in the town lacking individuality. The use of passive voice “was assembled” further implies lack of individuality.

(The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Example #2

In the opening stanza of his blank verse poem “Traveling through the Dark”, William Stafford ponders over the connection between the nature and technology, without giving any judgment. However, inviting the readers to think carefully about what would be the consequences of such a world human beings are creating. This stanza sets tone and setting of the scene. The tone is direct, simple and conversational as it is always in telling a story. In the first and the second lines, the speaker describes how he comes across a dead deer at night while driving. In the third and fourth lines, the speaker describes setting by telling about the narrow road along with a running river nearby. He suggests how to get rid of its dead body from narrow road by pushing it into the canyon. The poet introduces the metaphor of the journey by comparing the road with life and journey. We also get a lot about the speaker who is not going for the first time on the dark country road.

(“Traveling Through the Dark” by William Stafford)

Example #3

In his very first paragraph of, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens brings similarity and contrast existed between the two countries, England and France during the French Revolution. This passage presents an image of chaos and turmoil ensued due to clash in the opposite extremes exited between the two different countries and their people. Therefore, its tone is also chaotic and melancholic presenting theme of duality. In fact, Dickens has used paradox to establish the plot and theme of this novel. The rich were enjoying abundance, the poor, on the other hand, were suffering due to deprivation. In England, there was a lack of security and in France, the clergymen practiced inhuman activities against masses. In other words, this passage emphasizes the issue of juxtaposition of these two countries and sets up the basis of upcoming events followed in the novel.

(A Tale of Cities by Charles Dickens)

Example #4

In the final stanza of his poem “The Road Not Taken”, Frost talks about his dilemma of having two paths and not knowing which one to choose. The third line is very important. It is a repetition of the opening line of this poem. This line delivers an idea of selecting between the two diverged paths. The tone in this stanza shifts from regretful to optimistic. The two roads symbolically represent individual choices. The mood is also not depressed and unhappy, but the poet sighs because he knows what the complexities our life may have for him. Whether he has chosen a right or a wrong path, it has an irresistible impact on his life. The phrase “less traveled” suggests the theme of individualism.

(“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost)

Function of Explication

Explication not only illuminates a piece of literature, but also serves to remind the readers about its historical setting and formal properties of style and language. It does not give deeper level meanings, but explores an explicit view of a piece of writing. In fact, it clarifies and brings clarity in meanings of a work. It also is very helpful for the students to evaluate the books and articles they read during their academic career.