explication (analysis)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

"Explication," says David R. Williams, "is the full interpretation of the text, its history, its context, the definitions of the terms, even the different interpretations possible"(Sin Boldly! 2009). (Marc Romanelli/Getty Images)


Explication is a term in research and literary criticism for the close analysis of a text or of an excerpt from a longer text. Also known as exegesis.

The term is derived from explication de texte (explanation of text), the practice in French literary studies of closely examining the language of a text to determine meaning.

Explication de texte "entered English-language criticism with the help of the New Critics, who emphasized a text-only approach as the only valid method of analysis.

Thanks to the New Criticism, explication has become established in English as a critical term referring to the nuanced and thorough close reading of textual ambiguities, complexities, and interrelationships" (Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms, 2003).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Latin, "unfold, explain"

Examples and Observations

  • "[An explication is an] attempt to reveal the meaning by calling attention to implications, such as the connotations of words and the tone conveyed by the brevity or length of a sentence. Unlike a paraphrase, which is a rewording or rephrasing in order to set forth the gist of the meaning, an explication is a commentary that makes explicit what is implicit. If we paraphrased the beginning of the Gettysburg Address, we might turn 'Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth' into 'Eighty-seven years ago our ancestors established,' or some such statement. In an explication, however, we would mention that four score evokes the language of the Bible, and that the biblical echo helps to establish the solemnity and holiness of the occasion. In an explication, we would also mention that fathers initiates a chain of images of birth, continued in conceived in liberty, any nation so conceived, and a new birth."
    (Marcia Stubbs and Sylvan Barnet, The Little, Brown Reader, 8th ed. Addison-Wesley, 2000)
  • Ian Watt's Explication of the First Paragraph of The Ambassadors
    "An unusually brilliant example of the analysis of a single paragraph of prose is provided by Ian Watt's 'The First Paragraph of The Ambassadors: An Explication,' Essays in Criticism, 10 (July 1960), 250-74. Starting out with objectively observable idiosyncrasies of Henry James's syntax and diction, Watt relates these features to their function in the paragraph, to their effects on the reader, to the character traits of Strether and the narrator, and ultimately to the cast of James's own mind. He attempts then to persuade us that the stylistic features of this one paragraph are not only characteristic of James's later prose but also indicative of James's complex vision of life and his conception of the novel as an art form."
    (Edward P.J. Corbett, "Approaches to the Study of Style." Teaching Composition: Twelve Bibliographical Essays, rev. ed., edited by Gary Tate. Texas Christian University Press, 1987)
  • Explication as a Writing Assignment
    "You may be assigned a paper asking you to analyze a book or portion of a book . . .. We call this method 'textual' analysis because the text itself, what the author wrote, provides your data. Your paper is about the text itself, not about the text's subject matter. . . . Your paper is called an 'analysis' because you take the author's work apart to examine the different components and then put them back together. This activity is called 'explication': a textual analysis explicates, or explains, what the author's main points are and how they are connected, and offers a critique of the author's argument. An analogy would be taking a car engine apart, explaining each part and how the parts work together, and evaluating whether the car is a good buy or a lemon.

    "Mastering the skill of explication will help you write better papers when a textual analysis is assigned. But, perhaps as important, this skill will help you evaluate more clearly all the books and articles you encounter in your academic career."
    (The Sociology Writing Group, A Guide to Writing Sociology Papers, 5th ed. Worth Publishers, 2001)
  • Explication de Texte
    "[Explication de texte is a] step-by-step way of explaining the details of a literary text, practiced in the French school system. Explication de texte differs from the close reading advocated by New Criticism because it restrains itself from acts of interpretation, focusing instead on providing the information that will enable a basic understanding of the work under discussion."
    (David Mikics, A New Handbook of Literary Terms. Yale University Press, 2007)


    Pronunciation: ek-sple-KAY-shun (English); ek-sple-ka-syon (French)

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    Nordquist, Richard. "explication (analysis)." ThoughtCo, Dec. 21, 2016, thoughtco.com/what-is-an-explication-1690621. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, December 21). explication (analysis). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-explication-1690621 Nordquist, Richard. "explication (analysis)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-an-explication-1690621 (accessed September 23, 2017).