What Is The Definition Of Allusion?

Don Quixote

An allusion is a quick but indirect reference made of a place, thing, or person, or a reference to an idea of cultural, historical, political or literary importance. This reference does not describe the person or thing in detail but is merely a passing comment.

The writer of the allusion expects that the reader will have enough knowledge of the person or thing that he or she will be able to recognize it and grasp its importance.

For example, a literary allusion would be, “I don’t support this quixotic idea.” In this instance, quixotic would imply that the idea is “ridiculous and impractical” which is a reference or allusion to “Don Quixote,” a story by Cervantes about the misadventures of a foolish and delusional knight.

More Allusion Examples

  • “The estate’s lavish landscape was like a Garden of Eden.” This biblical allusion refers to the garden from which Adam and Eve were banished in the book of Genesis.
  • “That Kevin is quite the Romeo.” Romeo is a literary allusion to Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a play about star-crossed lovers.
  • “Ever since he landed that acting role, he’s gone all ‘Hollywood’ on us.” This modern-day allusion refers to a place Hollywood, which is known for movies, actors, shallow personalities and big egos.
  • “That candidate is just another Nixon.” This is a political allusion that refers to Richard Nixon’s reputation for being a liar and untrustworthy.

The Use Of Allusion

Allusions are often used by writers to distill a complex idea or emotion down into a simple word or phrase. The writer can convey an atmosphere, a character trait, or an emotion using a brief allusion.

The writer can also appeal to a certain audience and gain their favor by using allusions to a subject of which the readers are comfortable or partial to. For example, using biblical allusions in order to appeal to readers with religious backgrounds.

Use of Allusion In Poetry

One famous example of an allusion in poetry is found in Keats’s “Ode To Grecian Urn.”

Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fringed legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?”

In this verse, Sylvan is a reference to the half man/half goat deity in Greek Mythology.