An allusion is a figure of speech that makes a reference to a person, place, or an occasion that can be real or imaginary.

It may refer to anything, including fiction, fable, myth, folktale, traditional stories, historical events, ballad or religious manuscripts. The reference can be direct or may be incidental, and can broaden the reader’s understanding. 

Allusion is a reference to something else. It’s when a writer mentions some other work, or refers to an earlier part of the current work. The verb form of “allusion” is “to allude.” So alluding to something is the same thing as making an allusion to it.

For example:
You’re acting like such a Scrooge!

Alluding to Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, this line means that the person is being miserly and selfish, just like the character Scrooge from the story.

Allusion can help a writer in several ways such as: 
  • Allusions allow the writer to give an example or get a point across without going into a lengthy dialogue.
  • Allusions engage the reader and will most often help the reader remember the message or theme of the passage.

An allusion is a literary device that stimulates ideas, associations, and extra information in the reader's mind with only a word or two. It is when a person or author makes an indirect reference in speech, text, or melody to an occasion or character. The allusion is a brief and indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. It does not describe in detail the person or thing to which it refers.

Allusion means 'reference' that relies on the reader being able to understand the allusion and being familiar with all of the meaning hidden behind the words. Often the allusions made are to past proceedings or figures, but sometimes allusions are made to current famous people or events. Most allusions are based on the assumption that there is a body of knowledge that is shared by the author and the reader and thus the reader will understand the author's referent. 

The use allusions are not confined to literature alone. Their occurrence is equally common in our everyday speech. Some common allusion examples in everyday life are mentioned below:

  • “Don’t act like a Romeo in front of her.” – “Romeo” is a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo, a passionate lover of Juliet, in “Romeo and Juliet”.
  • “This place is like a Garden of Eden.” – This is a biblical allusion to the “garden of God” in the Book of Genesis.
  • “You are a Solomon when it comes to making decisions.” This refers to the story of King Solomon, who was given great wisdom by God.
  • The rise in poverty will unlock the Pandora’s Box of crimes. – This is an allusion to one of Greek Mythology’s origin myth, “Pandora’s box”.
  •  “Stop acting like my ex-husband please.” – Apart from scholarly allusions we refer to common people and places in our speech.
  • “Hey! Guess who the new Newton of our school is?” – “Newton”, means a genius student, alludes to a famous scientist Isaac Newton.
  • “I was surprised his nose was not growing like Pinocchio’s.” This 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. 

The Importance of Using Allusion

Allusion usually falls into one of the two categories, each with its own purpose.

Internal Allusion
Internal allusion is often harder to catch. It’s when the author makes a reference back to something that has come before in the work. Comedians do this all the time – they’ll tell a joke, and then later on in the evening they’ll tell another joke that uses a line or character from the first one.

External Allusion
This is an allusion to something outside the current script. It might be a book, movie, play, historical event, or even just a common saying or proverb. All that matters is that it has to be something the reader will already be familiar with.