What is Allusion in Literature | Examples and Types

What is Allusion?

Allusion is a literary device that refers to a person, place, event, or idea from another text or cultural context. It is an indirect reference that creates a connection between the text and the reader’s prior knowledge or experiences.

Allusions can be found in various forms of literature, including poetry, prose, and drama. The use of allusion adds depth and meaning to the text and can evoke strong emotions and associations in the reader.

Types of Literary Allusion

Here are types of allusion in literature

Biblical Allusion

This type of allusion refers to events, characters, or stories from the Bible. These allusions are often used to create a sense of authority, morality, or spirituality.

Example: “He was a modern-day Job, enduring one hardship after another.”

Mythological Allusion

This type of allusion refers to characters or stories from Greek, Roman, or other mythologies. These allusions are often used to create a sense of timelessness, power, or heroism.

Example: “She had the face of Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world.”

Historical Allusion

This type of allusion refers to events or people from history. These allusions are often used to create a sense of authenticity or to make a comparison between past and present.

Example: “He had the charisma of JFK, able to inspire a nation with his words.”

Literary Allusion

This type of allusion refers to characters or events from other works of literature. These allusions are often used to create a connection between the text and other works of literature or to emphasize a theme or idea.

Example: “He was a modern-day Hamlet, torn between his duty and his desire.”

Examples Allusion in Literature

Here are some examples of allusion in literature:

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot 
"Let us go then, you and I, 
When the evening is spread out against the sky 
Like a patient etherized upon a table."

In this opening stanza, Eliot alludes to a surgical procedure where a patient is anesthetized and immobilized. The use of this metaphor is meant to convey the feeling of paralysis and lack of agency experienced by the speaker.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

In the closing lines of the novel, Fitzgerald alludes to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, who was doomed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. The allusion conveys the idea that no matter how hard one tries, they will always be pulled back by the forces of the past.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare 
"O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon, 
That monthly changes in her circle orb, 
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable."

In this passage, Juliet warns Romeo not to swear his love by the moon because of its constant changes. She alludes to the belief in astrology and the moon’s influence on human behavior, suggesting that their love is subject to similar fluctuations.

The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
"A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many, 
I had not thought death had undone so many."

Eliot alludes to Dante’s Inferno, specifically Canto III, where the speaker describes the souls of the damned as a crowd of people. By using this allusion, Eliot highlights the spiritual emptiness and moral decay of modern society.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
"She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man. Not an old Uncle, but a strong young Negro man. No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards."

In this passage, Lee alludes to the story of the biblical character of Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. By using this allusion, Lee suggests that the punishment for breaking society’s rules is often harsh and unforgiving.

How to Use Allusion in Writing

Allusions can be used in various ways in writing to add depth and meaning to the text. Here are some tips on how to use allusion in writing:

  1. When using allusions, it is essential to consider your audience’s prior knowledge and experiences. Make sure your allusions are relevant to your readers.
  2. Too many allusions can overwhelm the reader and detract from the text’s main message. Use allusions only when they add significant value to the text.
  3. Allusions should not be used simply for the sake of reference. Connect the allusion to the text’s theme or message to create a deeper meaning.
  4. Allusions should match the tone and style of the text. A humorous text may use a lighthearted allusion, while a serious text may use a more profound allusion.

Use of Allusion in Sentences

  1. She was a modern-day Cinderella, living a life of hardship until she found her prince.
  2. He was a real-life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, able to switch between kindness and cruelty.
  3. The politician’s downfall was reminiscent of Icarus, flying too close to the sun and falling to his demise.
  4. The teacher was a real-life Mr. Miyagi, teaching his students valuable life lessons through martial arts.

Common Examples of Allusion

  1. “Beware the Ides of March” – Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. This line is an allusion to the soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar before his assassination.
  2. “He was a real-life Don Juan” – Don Juan by Lord Byron. This line is an allusion to the legendary womanizer Don Juan.
  3. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
What is Allusion in Literature?
What is Allusion in Literature (Examples)

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