Writing an explanation or summary of a work of fiction requires a delicate process of balancing the meaning of a text with evidence that supports it. The two most common methods of literary essays are explication and analysis. Explication occurs when a writer attempts to clarify or bring meaning to a work of fiction; analysis takes place when she studies the creative process of establishing that meaning. Knowing the difference between explication and analysis can help clarify the purpose of your literary assignment, as well as write a paper that will paint a clear picture of each aspect of meaning.
Explication and analysis differ in terms of whether they are examining the work of fiction as a whole or its smaller parts. When explicating, the author looks at the entire work to determine its meaning by looking at the big picture of a story. Analysis, by contrast, zooms in on how authors use elements of fiction, such as tone, setting and figurative language, to establish the meaning. For example, an explication of Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" might explore how its theme of man's hidden depravity evolves throughout the story. An analysis, though, might focus on the roles of the story's female characters and how they contribute to establishing the same theme.
In an explication, the writer often follows the story's chronological order of events, moving through each chapter or scene to show how it contributes to the meaning. Analysis moves in a non-chronological order by focusing on the elements being examined; as a result, the essay will not follow the order of events in the story, but jump around among the relevant sections of the text. For the analytical essay involving "Young Goodman Brown," the female characters don't appear in every scene; therefore, author would focus his analysis primarily on looking the applicable scenes' significance and placing them in the story's thematic context.
Levels of Meaning
As noted through its root word, an explication provides an "explicit" view of what a story is saying. The author explores the meaning based on its visibility to the naked eye. For example, dialogue and plot make for good elements to examine for explication because often, the actions and words of the characters clearly define the meaning. Analytical essays are concerned with the implicit level of meaning that takes careful examination to uncover. In contrast to plot and dialogue, figurative language is an example of more nuanced language in fiction that could lend itself to analysis.
Because explication and analysis are frequently confused, it is crucial to keep the goals of each assignment type in mind as you are writing. If a teacher asks for an analysis, students should be careful that they are looking at a deeper level in the story and not simply focusing on the surface level of what is happening. Conversely, they should be careful that an explication is exploring the visible meaning in the text and not delving too deeply into symbolism, metaphor and other implicit devices. Carefully reviewing the essay's content as you are writing can be a helpful way to avoid any confusion.
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