Literature

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Exposition

"Exposition" is a fancy word that means much the same thing as "explanation." Personally, I wish this word did not exist; I find it more confusing than helpful. However, I am in the minority: Most English teachers love to use this word. I think it makes them feel smart.

For example, English teachers love to talk about expository essays (essays that explain something) or the exposition at the beginning of a novel (the part where the author explains what you need to know about the characters or the setting). Since it's hard to avoid this word when discussing English literature, let's expound on it briefly. ("Expound" is another fancy word that means "explain").

I think the best way to understand exposition is to think of it as the opposite of allusion.

Consider this example:

Lisa decided not to invite John over for Christmas dinner. He was acting like a Scrooge. Why should she let him spoil her favorite holiday of the year? She had plenty of other friends.

 

In the above example, the writer alludes to Scrooge—but then quickly moves on, assuming that the reader knows who Scrooge is. That's an allusion.

Lisa decided not to invite John over for Christmas dinner. He was acting like a Scrooge. Scrooge—the main character in Charles’ Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol—hated Christmas, and he even expected his employees to work on Christmas Day. Well, John was acting just like that. But why should Lisa let him spoil her favorite holiday of the year? She had plenty of other friends.

 

The highlighted sentences are exposition. They explain the reference to Scrooge. Exposition is rarely exciting, but sometimes it's necessary.

Now consider this next example:

Horton knew that only one person could answer his questions about the Soviet plot—his friend Jenny Reeves. Jenny worked at NATO. Horton picked up the phone and booked the first flight to Belgium.

As soon as Horton’s flight landed in Brussels, he told the cab driver to take him straight to NATO headquarters. There wasn’t a moment to lose.

 

In the above example, the author alludes to NATO, but never bothers to explain what NATO is. The author assumes you know.

Horton knew that only one person could answer his questions about the Soviet plot—his friend Jenny Reeves. Jenny worked at NATO. Horton picked up the phone and booked the first flight to Belgium.

NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union. It is considered one of the strongest military alliances in the world.

As soon as his flight landed in Brussels, Horton told the cab driver to take him straight to NATO headquarters. There wasn’t a moment to lose.

 

 

Get the idea? Sometimes the author just feels a need to throw in an explanation. That's called exposition.

The above example could have come from a spy novel, or perhaps from a true story about the Cold War. NATO, after all, is a real organization.

This last example is the kind of thing you might find in a science fiction novel:

Heidi knew that only one person could answer her questions about the alien invasion. She would have to visit her friend Bill. Bill worked at SAMO. She pushed a button on her wrist communicator and reserved a seat on the next spaceship to Mars.

When her spaceship landed on Mars, Heidi took a drone cab directly to SAMO headquarters. There wasn’t a moment to lose.

 

In the above example, the author alludes to SAMO, a fictitious organization. The author doesn't bother to explain the allusion, because they trust that you'll figure it out.

Now consider this:

Heidi knew that only one person could answer her questions about the alien invasion. She would have to visit her friend Bill. Bill worked at SAMO. She pushed a button on her wrist communicator and reserved a seat on the next spaceship to Mars.

SAMO stood for the Space Alien Management Organization. It had been created after the first alien invasion 20 years ago. It was SAMO’s job to monitor all alien activity in the Earth Zone. SAMO’s headquarters were located on Mars, although it also had branches on all the other colonized planets.

When her spaceship landed on Mars, Heidi took a drone cab directly to SAMO headquarters. There wasn’t a moment to lose.

 

Again, the middle paragraph is exposition.

Exposition can be a sentence, or a paragraph, or 10 pages. There's nothing very mysterious about it. Nor is it very glamourous.

What do you think? Can we all agree that this is one word that should be eliminated from the English language? Can't we just say "explanation"?

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.

The last question asks you to write a paragraph of exposition that explains the meaning of a made-up word from a fantasy novel.

The word is carpenclop. Here is the word, in context:

Marvin and Monique emerged from the forest a few hours later. Pausing for a moment, they gazed out across the grassy plains that lay ahead of them. "Thank God that's over," said Marvin. "The rest of the way should be easy."

"I'm not so sure," said Monique. Her voice sounded tense.

"What do you mean?" asked Marvin.

Monique pointed toward a clump of shrubs a few dozen yards away. Shielding his eyes from the sun, Marvin looked in that direction—and what he saw there made his blood turn cold. It was a carpenclop.