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Allusion Definition: a reference in a work to a well-known piece of literature, art, person, or event

Literary Allusions

Allusions are used in literature to enhance meaning by accessing a reader’s prior knowledge of commonly known events, people, or works of art. A reference to one of these things can create several layers of meaning and enhance themes, without the author having to explicitly explain them to the reader. An allusion can also reference a world outside of the actual work, without having to create that world or scenario within the work. An allusion can also be used to simplify a complex concept or scenario, by making a passing reference for the reader to connect to a well-known person or event, and thus create an understanding or emotion that does not have to be explained. The title of the novel The Fault in Our Stars, for example, alludes to Cassius speech to Brutus in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, in which he shows Brutus that fate has not controlled Caesar’s rise to power; instead, they are in charge of their own fates, and have allowed Caesar to gain too much power, putting Rome at risk. This parallels Hazel’s journey to acceptance over Augustus’ death and her own battle with cancer. While cancer and death are inevitable things in life, she gets to choose who hurts her, and she is happy with her choice, as Augustus was with his own.

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Allusion Examples in Literature

Be sure to check out our article, "Literary Allusion"!

Learn more about various devices in literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements!
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