LIT 233 – American Stories: Paper #1 – Explication (or Close-Reading)

Paper #1 – Explication (or Close-Reading)

For our first formal (or high-stakes) writing assignment, we will write an explication.  There are various steps we need to go through to successfully do this.  But first, what is an explication?

An explication is “the patient unfolding of meanings in a work of literature.  An explication proceeds carefully through a story, passage, or poem, usually interpreting it line by line—perhaps even word by word, dwelling on details a casual reader might miss and illustrating how a work’s smaller parts contribute to the whole” (Kennedy & Gioia 1107).


The Steps

Pick an excerpt (or an entire poem) from our reading list that we have already covered.

Read the excerpt (or poem) multiple times & describe it to someone who has not (theoretically) read it.  What is it “about” (its subject)?  What does it mean, what is its central thought (its theme[s])?  Include questions you have about the poem at this time.

            A. Re-read the excerpt (or poem) looking for evidence that 1.    demonstrates what you think, & 2. challenges what you think.      Types of evidence should include literary devices, e. g.         rhythm,         rhyme, imagery, tone, voice.  Creating a two-columned     chart might be the best way to go about accomplishing this.

                  B. Write a paragraph (approx. 250-350 words) of reflection on how                       the poem with evidence has changed/complicated the meaning of                               the excerpt for you, & attempt to answer some of the questions you                            asked in Step 2.

4.   With all the new insights you have found through Steps 1-3, write an explication for someone who has not (theoretically) read it, quoting &          analyzing specific evidence.

As in any significant piece of literary writing, your writing must be guided by a purpose.  In this assignment, your purpose will be guided by the questions you ask.  Generally speaking, the deeper the questions the stronger the purpose.  Your purpose will ultimately be articulated in your thesis.  And to a large extent, the validity of your thesis—&, therefore, your entire argument—will be determined by the quality & arrangement of the parts of your argument, including claims, persuasion, evidence, warrants, & credibility.

The length of this assignment should be between 600 & 800 words (approximately). You will choose the excerpt (or poem) with which you work, but it must be from our course reading list & must be material we have already covered.

In addition, your paper must adhere to the following guidelines:


• double-spaced, one-inch margins

• 12 point Times New Roman (or reasonable equivalent) font

• number your pages & staple (or clip) them together

• include your last name next to each page number

• give your explication a title that hints at your argument

• use MLA style documentation formatting

• include a works cited page; even though you are using only one source (our textbook), doing so will serve as practice for your later assignments

This assignment is on the date on our Class Schedule, located on our Syllabus.  Late submissions will not be received under any circumstance.  Students failing to meet this deadline will earn zero points for this assignment, which is worth a total of 15 points toward your overall grade for the course.

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