Exposition is a literary device used to introduce background information about events, settings, characters etc. to the audience or readers. The word comes from the Latin language and its literal meaning is “a showing forth.” Exposition is crucial to any story, for without it nothing makes sense.
There are many ways to present an exposition and they include monologues, dialogues, in-universe media (newspaper, letters, reports, journal etc.), a protagonist’s thoughts or a narrator’s explanation of past events. It is one of the four rhetorical modes of communication – the other three being narration, description and argumentation.
Exposition in Movies
There are countless examples of exposition in many great movies and one of them, which comes across particularly well is from Star Wars. The exposition in this movie is the opening title sequence that gives information about the past events to the viewers. The crawling text on the screen at the beginning of each part gives the audience every piece of information they need to understand the upcoming events in the film. The opening lines usually begin like this: “A long time ago in a galaxy far away, far away…”
Exposition in Literature
An exposition is typically positioned at the beginning of a novel or a movie because the author wants the readers to be fully aware of the characters in the story. The famous story for children titled “The Three Little Bears” applies this technique of exposition.
Once upon a time, there were three bears. There was a Daddy Bear, who was very big, a Mama Bear, who was middle-sized, and a Baby Bear, who was very small. They all lived together in a little cottage in the middle of the woods. Their favorite breakfast was porridge. One morning, after they made their porridge, Daddy Bear said, ‘Let’s go for walk in the woods until it cools.’ Mama Bear and Baby Bear liked the idea, so off they went. While they were away, a little girl named Goldilocks came walking through the forest and smelled the porridge…
With the help of a single passage, the author of the story has given us an overview of the bear family, their residence and information on how the story sets in motion.
All of Shakespeare’s writings contain excellent exposition examples. Take Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Henry V, and Richard III, and you will see how exceptionally he has used the art of expository writing. Here, two examples from Othello have been taken to elaborate the point.
Act I: the opening scene of Othello shows a fierce argument between Roderigo and Iago, which helps build the interest of the readers. The readers/audiences realize that Iago is persistently trying to convince Roderigo to be his accomplice in destroying Othello. The exposition in this scene plays the following roles:
- It explicates Iago’s treacherous, spiteful and scheming nature.
- The main conflict of the play is revealed here. It revolves around Iago’s concealed bitterness towards his boss Othello who, in Iago’s opinion, is overloooking him for promotion.
- It ascertains two basic themes of the play: racism and that appearance is not always the same as reality.
End of Act 1: this part of the play tells the audience a few facts about Othello that include:
- He is a very respectable man.
- He had run off with Desdemona, Brabantio’s daughter.
- He is a great general who is sought by Venice to defend it in the war against the Turks.
Function of exposition
The importance of exposition in literature, as well as in our practical lives, cannot be ignored. Examining the types of writing we come across in our daily lives show us that almost all of them are incomplete without exposition.
The fiction books, articles and magazines that people read in their everyday lives essentially rely on exposition to connect the readers to the main story by giving them the background information. In most cases, a narrative or script loses its essence if not accompanied by an exposition. Not only is it important for bringing clarity to a script but it is also vital to enhance its literary value. The true essence of a book usually lies in how the reader is introduced to the characters in it and, if done correctly, the reader automatically starts relating to them.
Moreover, exposition is also widely used for academic purposes in schools, colleges and universities. Generally, students are asked to submit research reports and pass exams to establish their progress. The exposition here is keeping the academia updated on what you have learned so far.
Also, employees are also asked very often to put together business reports and memorandums to update their employers about their progress.