Allusion is when an author references something external to his or her work in a passing manner. For example, an author may reference a musical artist or song, a great thinker or philosopher, the author or title of a different text, or a major historical event. Allusions are a type of poetic device. Another form of the word allusion is allude. To allude is to refer to something without explaining it, to hint at it.
Allusions can be problematic. Since they are not explained, allusions depend on the reader knowing whatever external thing to which the author is alluding. For example, T. S. Eliot wrote a poem called “The Waste Land,” which is widely considered by scholars and academics to be one of the most important poems of the 20th century. Yet, “The Waste Land” is so densely packed with allusions that most casual readers find it to be impenetrable. That is to say, most readers don’t get it. This is the risk that writers take when using allusions. Allusions are a type of poetic device that depend on the reader possessing background knowledge on a thing that is not further explained. You should use them with caution for this reason. Still confused? Let’s go over an example before I launch into the list:
We heard a kind of war-whoop, such as David might have emitted when he knocked out the champion Goliath.
In this line (taken from O. Henry’s short story, “The Ransom of Red Chief“) the speaker alludes to the biblical figures of David and Goliath. In the context of “The Ransom of Red Chief,” this line is written as a smaller character delivers a punishing blow to a much larger character. This parallels how David dispatched Goliath in the story from the Bible, which make it an allusion to the Bible. But, if you are unfamiliar with this particular biblical story, then the allusion will be lost on you.
50 Examples of Allusion
- My Mom has a Spartan workout routine.
- Keith was speeding down the empty road in his Mustang and listening to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio.
- This was our Declaration of Independence and if Mom didn’t let us go to that concert, she would be our King George III.
- Some people are calling me the Tiger Woods of miniature golf.
- Don’t go thinking you’re Robin Hood just cause you took an extra peppermint from the candy jar.
- You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to understand poetry.
- She thinks that she loves me, and Christopher Columbus thought he was in India.
- Don’t wear an Abraham Lincoln hat on your first date.
- We do serious work in my classroom. It isn’t the Mickey Mouse Club over here.
- Look, I’m no Mother Teresa. I’ve made my mistakes, but I’m trying.
- Come. Be the Cleopatra to my Mark Antony.
- As I walked through the graveyard, Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” played in my head.
- Did you think that you were at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show when you met my parents?
- When Donna got her income tax refund check in the mail, she was so happy that she did the Moonwalk.
- Plutarch was good, and so was Homer too. if Shakespeare could write, than so can you.
- Well, I’m no Hercules, but I could open that jelly jar for you.
- Why does Cap’n Crunch always wear that Napoleon hat?
- Why should I read “Hamlet” or study the Battle of Hamburger Hill when the world is happening outside my window?
- She reminded me of the mother Mary in her grace.
- You don’t have to be William Shakespeare to write poetry.
- If you keep pushing me, I’m going to turn into the Incredible Hulk on you.
- My sister’s house is not the Ritz-Carlton, but it is warm and dry.
- Just because someone has different political views than you doesn’t make them Adolph Hitler.
- We were listening to “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles, right when it started raining.
- He gets one three point shot in gym class and now he thinks that he’s Steph Curry.
- Just as I sat down to cry, a Bob Marley song came on the radio, and I decided to dance instead.
- What if George Washington really did tell lies? Who would know?
- Omar was walking down the block, whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.”
- Our city needs a real-life Batman.
- You don’t have to be Michelangelo to copy and paste images of Michelangelo’s artwork.
- My mom tried to get me to watch a movie called Mona Lisa Smile.
- I want to grow those big fat Elvis sideburns.
- When we saw my cousin in his army uniform, we all started calling him G.I. Joe.
- I’ll be your Romeo if you’ll be my Juliet.
- Kelly couldn’t help but to notice that the new boy was reading Lord of the Flies during study hall.
- He’s a nice guy, Janie, if you can get past his Krusty the Clown haircut.
- He took command of his home like he was Caesar in Rome.
- Janice was listening to “Single Ladies” by Beyonce and putting on her makeup.
- I might have to do my flying Bruce Lee kick if you keep playing with me.
- That’s the kind of beard that Teen Wolf would grow.
- Don’t wear those big red Ironman boots to the party.
- The boy on the horse whistled “Yankee Doodle” on his way to town.
- She’s going to do her Marilyn Monroe thing over the vent.
- Chrissy has a Lion King poster in her room.
- Instead of going to the party, Kara stayed home and read The Hunger Games.
- My uncle was watching The Godfather and smoking a cigar.
- She was reading a book of poems by Emily Dickinson and listening to the sounds of nature.
- As Thomas chased after the bus, he felt like he was Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings.
- I’ve got the speed and power of a young Mike Tyson.
- Go ahead, ask me anything. I’m like Google over here.
In review, allusions are references to external things. These things can be famous people, literary texts, songs, historical events, and more. Allusions are a cool way to bring the spirit of another work into one’s text. But, be careful when using allusions because if your audience is unfamiliar with the thing to which you are alluding, your allusion will bellyflop. When I created this list of allusion examples, I tried to reference HUGE historical figures, texts, and events, yet I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these allusions were lost on you. The more obscure your allusion, the less likely your readers are to connect with it. I hope that this page helped you to better understand literary allusions.