Length: approximately five typed pages

The word "explication" comes from a Latin word that means "unfolding." When you explicate a story or novel or poem, you "unfold" its meaning in an essay by interpreting or analyzing a portion of it. You can analyze a character, a single incident, symbols, point of view, structure, and so on. No explication can take into account everything that goes on in a story; the explication would be longer than the story itself. So your paper should focus on one or two elements that you think contribute to the overall meaning or purpose of the story. A good explication concentrates on details: you should quote portions of the story to show how the text supports your thesis. Then you should offer comments that show how the portion you're interpreting contributes to the story as a whole.

Suggested Approach:

(1) Choose one of the stories we have already read this semester from your textbook.

(2) Read the story several times, until you think you have an idea of its overall theme or thesis or meaning. Jot down notes as you read.

(3) Choose an element of the story (incident, character, style, symbol, structure) that seems to you to enhance or define the meaning as you understand it.

(4) Construct a THESIS that indicates (a) your focus, and (b) the relation of that focus to the story as a whole. A thesis represents your conclusion or opinion about the story. Thus your thesis is argumentative; it should not be an obvious point, but should be a thoughtful statement that indicates some of the complexity and depth of the story and that takes a point of view on the story–a statement that needs support to work as an argument. Don't settle for the first generalization that comes to your mind; that approach almost always leads to trite responses and poor grades. I'm always on the lookout for the "So what?" factor in paper topics. Ask yourself: "Could my thesis or opinion cause a reader to respond, 'Yes, that's true, but so what?' Or will my thesis illuminate for the reader some point that he/she might not have noticed at first reading?" Some examples:

A Non-Argumentative (and Therefore Bad) Thesis: "The characters in 'Young Goodman Brown' are Puritans." This thesis is not an opinion; it's a fact. Facts can't be argued, so the paper is finished before it's been started. The reader will ask, "so what?"

A Too-Vague (and Therefore Meaningless) Thesis: "'Young Goodman Brown' is about Puritanism." This statement is a little more argumentative than the one above (a story could give many different perspectives on Puritanism), but it's still primarily factual, and it gives no indication of the author's focus or opinion.

A Better Thesis: "In his story 'Young Goodman Brown,' Nathaniel Hawthorne examines the dangers of Puritan extremism about evil. Because Goodman Brown is oppressed by his belief in the power of the devil, he eventually allows this belief to overpower his faith in God."

Another Good Thesis: "In 'Young Goodman Brown,' Nathaniel Hawthorne uses light and dark imagery as a symbolic backdrop to his tale of a young man's discovery of evil in the world."

(5) EVIDENCE: Find quotations and examples in the story that support your thesis, and organize the rest of you paper around this evidence. In a paper based on the "Better Thesis" above, the reader will expect evidence that shows how Brown lets his recognition of the existence of evil destroy his conviction of the existence of good. Reading the last thesis above, the reader will expect

(a) that the paper will examine light and dark imagery as it relates to both character and plot,

(b) that the writer will offer quotations from the text that incorporate light and dark imagery, and

(c) that the paper will conclude by showing how this imagery or symbolism contributes to the meaning of the story as a whole.

(6) CONCLUSION: Your paper should conclude by summing up your argument so that

(a) the reader sees that the evidence you've given does in fact support your thesis, and

(b) you offer some indication of how your focus/thesis fits into the whole of the story.

SCHEDULE: You should begin your prewriting immediately--thinking about the stories we've read, brainstorming and making lists, beginning a tentative outline, etc. You must turn in a full draft of your paper on Friday, February 11 and participate in a rough draft workshop on Monday, February 21.

Other Important Advice

1. Put short story titles in quotation marks.

2. Follow your direct quotations with the appropriate page number from your textbook in parentheses.

3. Somewhere in the first paragraph of your paper, mention the story you are explicating by title and author.

5. When you write about literature, it is best to write in the present tense:

"Goodman Brown goes to the forest and thinks he sees his wife there," not "Goodman Brown went to the forest and thought he saw. . ."

5. MAKE SURE YOUR PAPER IS NOT MERELY A SUMMARY OF THE PLOT OF THE STORY. I already know what happens in the stories. If you wish, you may offer a very brief plot summary early in your paper in order to provide background, but the majority of your paper must be analytical.

6. Include a title for your paper. "Explication of 'Young Goodman Brown'" is not enough. Give some indication of your topic (for example, "Extremism in 'Young Goodman Brown'"). Center this title on your first page.

7. A decent explication takes some time. Don't wait until the last minute and then rush to complete the assignment. That way lies madness and bad grades.

8. No research is necessary for this paper. If you do use secondary sources in the preparation of this paper, you must indicate this through proper documentation. Unattributed use of internet sources will be considered plagiarism.