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Passage Explication Assignment A passage explication is an essay that takes apart the pieces of a prose passage to demonstrate how it creates meaning – “What does the passage mean? What is its purpose? How does it create that meaning and achieve its purpose? How does it fit in with the rest of the text (if available)?” The creation of meaning comes through literary techniques, like simile and metaphor, through argument, through imagery, and through word choice (though this is not a definitive list). Process: • First, start by reading your passage over again. What, in the end, is the point that the author is trying to make? After you have really thought about it (and remember, you have to write about the passage your author wrote, not the passage that is in YOUR head), complete the following sentence:
In the passage _____________________, [the author] _________________ suggests that _______________________________________________________________________________________ ________________________________ [explain how] __________________________________________ _______________________________________________________________.
Now, re-read the passage again and take notes on the following items: • • • How does the author establish his point? Does he do it through questions? Comparisons? Word choice? Setting up a paradox? How does he resolve the point? How is the meaning communicated (i.e., what literary techniques)? How does this passage fit into the rest of the text? What purpose might it serve?
Divide the passage up into sections. This might be by paragraphs or it might be by small groups of paragraphs. One of the best ways to divide a passage up is to look for shifts, moments in the passage where the author seems to change the direction of the piece; shifts are often indicated by transition words like BUT, YET, HOWEVER. • Then, you are going to write one paragraph explaining what he does in the first chunk, one for the next section, and so forth until you have walked the reader through the whole passage from beginning to end. You should use examples from the text to support your main idea about each part of the passage; work the quotations in so that they are part of your own sentences. Finally, you will write a conclusion explaining why the idea that the passage proposes is an important one, either on its own or in relation to the rest of the text.
After you’ve written one draft, edit your paper; look particularly for the following: 1. First or second person: they do not belong in an academic essay. 2. A complete thesis statement that specifically answers the questions proposed above. 3. Your thesis sentence is appropriately interpreting the author’s passage, not one that you made up. 4. Textual evidence that is explained that supports your point. 5. A conclusion that explains why the idea in this passage is important.
Revise your essay. Pay particular attention to the quality of your ideas, not just spelling and grammar (though they are important as well).