Short Story Explication Assignment

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Short Story Explication Assignment

Take one of the short stories from the approved list and write a 3-page explication.

What is an Explication?

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.

When writing explications about short stories, it is tempting to take on large amounts of the text or even the

whole story and address sweeping themes. However, that is not the point of an explication.

Suggested Approach

1. 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.

2. Choose a portion of your chosen story and focus on it for your explication. While your analysis should be

confined to this portion, make sure to connect its meaning to the overall meaning of the story as well; ask "how

does this passage function within the larger story?"

3. Choose an element of the story (incident, character, style, symbol, structure, etc.) that seems to you to

enhance or define the meaning as you understand it.

Paper Length

 The paper should be 3 pages in length; this does not include the required Works Cited page. Papers

that are too short will receive an automatic zero.


 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.

This is NOT a Research Paper

 There is no need to Google or research anything. The short story should be the only source on your

Works Cited page.

MLA Format

 Make sure that you follow the formatting of the sample MLA paper posted in Blackboard EXACTLY.

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 You can find more about MLA style at the Purdue University Online Writing Lab's Web page on Using

MLA Format.

Multiple Paragraph Essay Format

 Essay should contain multiple paragraphs

o The essay should begin with an introduction paragraph

 The introduction paragraph should end with a 1 sentence thesis statement.

 Please highlight, underline, embolden, or color your thesis. It needs to be clearly visible

o Each body paragraph should begin with a clear topic sentence and end with a clear concluding


o Appropriate transitions should be used throughout the essay.

o Essay should end with a concluding paragraph


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. Ask yourself: "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."


Find quotations and examples in the story that support your thesis, and organize the rest of your

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.

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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.

Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation

 All grammar, spelling, and punctuation rules should be observed. Consult The Purdue OWL for help

with these issues.

Other Important Advice

 Put short story titles in quotation marks.

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

 Somewhere in the first paragraph of your paper, mention (do not announce) the story you are

explicating by title and author.

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

o "Goodman Brown goes to the forest and thinks he sees his wife there," not "Goodman Brown

went to the forest and thought he saw. . ."


already know what happens in the stories. If you wish, you may offer an extremely brief plot summary

early in your paper in order to provide background, but the majority of your paper must be analytical.

 Papers should be submitted via the website no later than the posted time and date.

 Papers will be accepted up to 3 days after the due date with a 10 point deduction each day.

 Papers more than 3 days late will not be accepted and will earn a grade of zero

Similarity Index

 Because this paper requires little to no research, the similarity index in should be less than

10 percent.

 Papers submitted with a similarity index higher than 10 percent may earn a grade of zero.


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