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What is the definition of exposition?

The definition of exposition is writing or speech that provides explanation.


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Last Updated May 25, 2023.

Exposition is speech or text that provides an explanation. In literary works, exposition describes passages that give background information on characters, settings, or other story elements. Exposition can be communicated by a narrator or through characters’ dialogue or thoughts.


Exposition entered English from Old French, where it appeared as esposicion, with the same meaning. It originated from the Latin word exponere, meaning “to explain, to expose.”


Exposition may be found in the opening lines of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which provides an exposition on the novel’s primary setting and one of the main characters:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against the hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there walked alone.


Dr. John Montague was a doctor of philosophy; he had taken his degree in anthropology, feeling obscure that in this field, he might come closest to his true vocation, the analysis of supernatural manifestations. He was scrupulous about using his title because his investigations were so unscientific; he hoped to borrow an air of respectability, even scholarly authority, from his education.

see: prologue

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