Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes


allusion to George Orwell's novel
Nineteen Eighty-Four

Wikipedia: An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to, or representation of, a place, event, literary work, myth, or work of art, either directly or by implication. . . . An expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference.

Oxford English Dictionary: A covert, implied, or indirect reference; a passing or incidental reference.

Etymology: < Latin allusio: game, play on words Often confused with illusion, allusion [is] a reference in one literary work to another literary work.
Example: The Simpsons television show constantly refers to . . . movies, music, literature etc. In a scene where Principal Skinner is in his
office, he suddenly turns to his window and looks out at an old, spooky house while he talks about a tormented relationship with his mother. This is an allusion to the Norman Bates character in the movie Psycho. An indirect reference to some piece of knowledge not actually mentioned. Allusions usually come from a body of information that the author presumes the reader will iknow.
For example, an author who writes, "She was another Helen," is alluding to the proverbial beauty of Helen of Troy.

Poets' Graves: Where a poem makes reference to another poem or text.
For example, the 14th line of The Prelude by William Wordsworth, 'The earth was all before me,' alludes to one of the final lines of Paradise Lost by John Milton, 'The world was all before them.' Paradise Lost, in turn, alludes to the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.

A poem containing multiple allusions is The Waste Land by T.S.Eliot which makes reference to lines written by Shakespeare, Milton, Spenser, Verlaine, Baudelaire, Marvell, Dante, Webster, St. Augustine, Goldsmith, Ovid etc.

Allusion should not be confused with plagiarism.

Compare intertextuality.


Senator Barrack Obama, speech at a fund-raiser for Catholic charities, October 16, 2008: "I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the Planet Earth." ( [Obama alludes to the Christmas story and to Superman of DC Comics.]

"She was breathtakingly beautiful, but he knew that she was forbidden fruit." ( [Allusion to temptation of sin in Genesis story in the Holy Bible.]

Dylan Thomas's "Fern Hill" (1945) also alludes in its 4th stanza to both the Genesis and Nativity stories:

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
     Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
          The sky gathered again
     And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
     Out of the whinnying green stable
          On to the fields of praise.

Examples adapted from

Here are some examples that allude to people or events in literature:

  • “I was surprised his nose was not growing like Pinocchio’s.”
    This allusion refers to the story of Pinocchio, where his nose grew whenever he told a lie. It is from
    The Adventures of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi.
  • “When she lost her job, she acted like a Scrooge, and refused to buy anything that wasn’t necessary.”
    Scrooge was an extremely stingy character from Charles Dickens’s
    A Christmas Carol.
  • “I thought the software would be useful, but it was a Trojan Horse.”
    This refers to the horse that the Greeks built that contained soldiers, which was given as a gift to the enemy during the Trojan War; once inside the enemy's walls, the soldiers broke out. By using trickery, the Greeks won the war. Comparably, the software mentioned above may have contained a destructive virus.
  • “He was a real Romeo with the ladies.”
    Romeo, a character in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, was very romantic in expressing his love for Juliet.
  • “Chocolate was her Achilles’ heel.”
    This allusion signifies that her weakness was her love of chocolate. Achilles, a character in Greek mythology appeared invincible because his mother, holding him by the heel, dipped him in magical water when he was a baby, so that he was protected all over except for his heel.

Biblical Allusions

Many biblical allusions are used in our everyday language and in writing.

  • “He was a Good Samaritan yesterday when he helped the lady start her car.” This refers to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan.
  • “She turned the other cheek after she was cheated out of a promotion.” This comes from teaching of Jesus that you should not get revenge.
  • “This place is like a Garden of Eden.” The Garden of Eden was the paradise God made for Adam and Eve.
  • “You are a Solomon when it comes to making decisions.” This refers to King Solomon, who was very wise.
  • “When the volcano erupted, the nearby forest was swallowed up in dust and ash like Jonah.” Jonah was a person who was swallowed alive by a whale.
  • “It is raining so hard, I hope it doesn’t rain for 40 days and 40 nights.” This makes a reference to the biblical story of Noah and the ark he built. He was told by God that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights and flood the land.