Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter A

 

 

 

is for Allusion

 

 

 

An allusion is a reference to a person, place or thing outside of the current text. It is assumed that the reader or viewer will recognize the reference and draw a deeper connection with the text.

Different types of allusions require different levels of critical thought in order to form connections. A simple allusion might be a casual reference to something from popular culture:

The plan was simple enough–bring the girls to the ancient Victorian, that Addams Family knock-off, scare the pants off them, be all “there, there” when the time was right, and then literally take the pants off them.

-from The Revenant

In this example, “Addams Family knock-off” connotes a dilapidated mansion with mansard-style roofs, quite possibly haunted, with a belfry, bats included.

A more complex allusion might be an extended metaphor that, when taken as a whole, paints a picture for the reader:

Zulu heard his watch mark off the time: tick…tick…tick. He fancied himself Captain Hook on the deck of the Jolly Roger, hearing the clock in the belly of the crock that took his hand. He stood upright, hands on hips, right foot on an overturned trash can. For a moment he was Hook. “He tasks me,” he whispered. “He tasks me and I shall have him.”

Wait, he thought. Wrong movie.

-from The Revenant

This allusion relies, not only on the reader’s knowledge of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, but also “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” While the reference to Pan is more of an explicit allusion as it identifies characters in the text, the reference to “Khan” is more subtle in that it doesn’t. Here the author is hoping her target audience has seen the movie, recognizes the quote, and makes the connection.

I leave you with one final allusion I wrote, just because I’m proud of it, from my I am, Was, Will be Alice YA novel:

“I’m not sick.”

“Paralyzing fear is a kind of sickness,” she says and just like that, we’re replaying the scene from The Big Bang Theory, the one where Sheldon is locked out of his house and spending the night at Penny’s, but he can’t sleep and Sheldon says he’s not sick and Penny says, “Homesickness is a kind of sickness.” Mom doesn’t disappoint–she asks if I want her to sing “Soft Kitty” to me. Or maybe she does disappoint, I mean, here I am, scared to frozen that if I go to school I will one day dematerialize in front of people in an imperceptible poof of air leaving behind nothing but my clothes (including my underwear) or even worse, rematerialize in front of the entire ninth grade population in the altogether, my privates on display, and all she can do is play out a corny scene from a stupid television show. I know she means well, to ease the tension in the room, but come on!

Feel free to share any allusions you’ve written or comments you have below.