Sample Quote Explication (resource originally published by Colegio Bolivar)
Using Quotations in Formal Analysis
You are always making an argument when you write an essay. Incorporating the text of a passage into your prose adds an authoritative tone to your literary essay. To do so, remember that it’s necessary to put quotation marks around the author’s exact words. To use a quote, you must first interpret what the quote means, and then follow certain grammatical conventions to incorporate or to embed the quote correctly.
The first step is to select a quote that is significant and determine what the quote means.
To determine what a quote means, consider all of the following aspects of the quotation.
Context: the framework of the quote
· Where is the quote?
· Is it narration? If so, consider the perspective.
· Is it a character’s voice? If so ask: who is the character, whom is the character speaking to, why, when, what, and maybe even how is the character speaking?
Literal: the exact meaning of the quote
· What does the quote mean?
· Literally what do the words say?
· Paraphrase the statement.
Figurative: the ideas of the quote
· Consider the connotations the words create. What images and pictures are brought to mind?
· Consider figurative language. For example, look for the use of metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, and other the literary terms.
Meaning: the relationship of the quote to the work
· How does this quotation fit the meaning of the entire work?
· Why is this quotation crucial to understanding?
· How does the quotation extend the author’s meaning?
Analysis: total explication of the quote
· Make at least a couple of statements about the quote.
· Include fragments of the quotation in the analysis.
Read this quote from Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein. Then, look at the example analysis.
Gandalf paused. “And there in the dark pools amid the Gladden Fields,” he said, “the Ring passed out of knowledge and legend; and even so much of its history is known now only to a few, and the Council of the Wise could discover no more. But at least I can carry on the story, I think.” (page 77, The Shadows of the Past)
Context: At the beginning of the trilogy, Gandalf’s quotation explains to Frodo the history of the Ring.
Literal: Gandalf explains that although legend shrouds the ring’s history, he thinks he can try to explain the origin and significance of the ring.
Figurative: A legend, with its basis in fact, embellishes the story in the retelling. Council of the wise sounds like a wise group with all the answers. Knowledge implies wisdom more than the word facts, just as legend suggests mystery and fame. As a circle has no end nor beginning, so the ring’s end is its beginning, and vice versa. The legend goes round from fact to fiction and back. The words “I think”qualify and weaken the authority of the speaker’s claim to discern the fact from the legend.
Meaning: This quotation depicts the apocryphal nature of the ring whose legacy blends legend and fact.
Analysis: Gandalf relates to Frodo, the story of the ring which “passed out of knowledge and legend.” Just as the ring defies complete understanding requiring instead faith, its esoteric origins are “known now only to a few,” including Gandalf who questions his ability to relate the tale.
Integrating/Incorporating/Blending the Quotation
Once you’ve selected an appropriate quotation and determined its meaning, follow these grammatical conventions to incorporate the quotation into your writing. Skillful use of quotation from a text adds validity and power to your writing.
· Use appropriate synonyms for the word said. For example:
Don’t say: Blake says, “In what distant deeps or skies.”
but rather: Blake questions the Tyger’s origin asking, “In what distant deeps or skies.”
· Don’t quote out of context or distort the poem’s meaning. For example:
Don’t say: Blake creates a frightening vision of the Woodland Park Zoo when he describes a cute little banshee: “Dare its deadly terrors clasp.”
but rather: Blake’s vibrant words question who the fierce beast can, “Dare its deadly terrors clasp.”
· Keep ideas connected. For example:
Don’t say: You can see a lot of d‘s in that poem. It’s almost like a hammer hitting the anvil.
but rather: Blake’s alliterative use of d‘s, “Dare its deadly” creates a hammering sound that describes a fierce beast. The repetition of the d‘s with short interrogatives mimics the sound of a hammer hitting an anvil.
· Keep quotes short. For example:
Don’t say: Blake’s first stanza, “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the Night,/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?” is identical to the last stanza, “Tyger! Tyger! burning bright/In the forests of the Night,/What immortal hand or eye/Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?” except for one word.
but rather: Except for one word, Blake’s first and last stanzas frame identical symmetry. Replacing the suggestive modal “could” with a strong verb “dare” suggests forbidden risk and powerful courage that “frame thy fearful symmetry.”
· Say something substantial. For example:
Don’t say: Blake does a really great job of describing a Tyger. He uses meter, rhyme, and super figurative language.
but rather: Blake juxtaposes the Lamb with the Tyger, creating an image of two contrasting creatures. “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
· Remove personal opinion and consider only the author’s perspective. For example:
Don’t say: I really like this poem Blake wrote about my favorite animals, a lamb and a Tyger. “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
but rather: Blake’s perspective shows in his capitalizing, and thus deifying, Lamb when he writes “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
· Write in complete sentences:
Don’t say: Blake “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?”
but rather: Blake’s complex questions suggest equally complex, yet simple answers. An affirmative reply suffices for “Did he who made the Lamb make thee?