Allusion and Illusion: Definitions and Examples


Allusions are used in literature as references to people, things or facts. Illusions provide a deceptive image in literature. The latter refers to something else beyond the text. Allusions and illusions are different from each other. This tutorial will guide you to understand the essential details with examples.

What is an Allusion?

An allusion in literature indirectly refers to other literary works, historical incidents or characters. It is a literary device that helps to provide an indirect indication of such things. While using an allusion, it is assumed that the reader or listener is already aware of the references.

An allusion is often used in spoken English to refer to incidents and characters, and we sometimes pass comments while speaking using allusion.


A civil war was going on between the parents and child for buying a box of chocolate. (allusion is 'civil war')

What is an Illusion?

An illusion in literature gives a false interpretation or shield so that the reader gets a deceived judgement of the characters or incidents. Illusion is like a mirage in the oasis.

The facts are far away from the deceptive things set by the writer to confuse readers. Illusion helps to create engagement in writing.


Tempest by William Shakespeare provides an ideal example of illusion. Here he uses illusion as a literary device to shield reality. And finally, he shows how human nature discloses the actual truth puncturing the illusion.

Allusion: Types, Uses and Examples

Allusion is a useful literary device that is popular among writers. Sometimes we also use allusions to refer to other things while describing things, people or incidents in our daily life. It allows the writer to convey more knowledge in precision. Moreover, it creates a space in the reader’s mind to think or imagine the reference.

Historical Allusion

An allusion that provides any historical reference is a historical allusion. It can be a person, incident or other important historical things.

For example, 'boycott' is a historical allusion. It refers to Captain Charles Cunningham Boycott, an Englishman who was a controversial person.

Mythological allusion

Mythological allusion reminds us of any character or thing related to mythology.


Ice cream is my Achilles heel.

Here, it means ice cream is my weakness. Here the allusion is the Achilles heel.

Literary Allusion

Literary allusion refers to characters or things of literature or art.


She met her Romeo on the island.

Here 'Romeo' is a literary allusion that refers to the lover in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Religious Allusion

Allusions that refer to Biblical text or religious books are religious allusions.


Antediluvian, Jonah, the eye of the needle, Solomon and so on are religious allusions. We use it to refer to similar incidents or persons.

Cultural Allusion

Such allusions refer to cultural things, people and incidents. It relates to pop culture too.


Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate!

This cultural allusion reminds the song by Taylor Swift.

Allusions in literature with examples

Shakespeare uses allusion in All’s Well That Ends Well: "In breaking [oaths] he is stronger than Hercules". Here he refers to the Hercules of Greek mythology.

Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet has allusions too. Greek mythology references to the gods (Hyperion, Jove and Mars) are examples.

Illusion: Types, Uses and Examples

Illusion deceives readers with false images or ideas about the characters or plot in literature.

The purpose of using illusion is to surprise the audience or readers with sudden outcomes that are not usually expected. The readers can feel a rush of emotion after the revelation and an emotional connection to the narrative or literature.

Literal illusion

Literal illusion has a visual effect. We see this kind of illusion generally in artistic expressions through graphic illustrations. This illusion is understandable by most people.

Cognitive illusion

Cognitive illusion traps the reader or viewer. The actual meaning can be found by needful focus.

Psychological illusion

Psychological illusion traps the person in a psychological dilemma.

Apart from these, we see the aesthetic illusion in literature. The writer captivates the readers’ minds with such an illusion.

There are two types of aesthetic illusion: factual and fictional aesthetic allusion.

Factual Aesthetic Illusion

This type of illusion is mainly seen in factual literary works like travelogues and biographies. The reader gets an illusion of things despite actual facts and real stories. This aesthetic illusion is more based on real incidents rather than imagination.

Fictional Aesthetic Illusion

This aesthetic illusion creates a realm of imagination in the readers’ minds. It is generally found in fictional stories, novels and other literary works. The readers consume the illusion created by the writer and enjoy the falsified image created purposefully.

Illusions in literature with examples

Example 1

Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is an example of the clash between reality and illusion. Here Tennessee Williams shows how humans use illusion as a weapon to diverse harsh truths of life. It relieves a broken person for a while but cannot be permanent.

Example 2

La belle dame sans merci by John Keats

The poem was written by John Keats when he was suffering from tuberculosis. His thought of inevitable death can be felt in the illusion he presents in the poem. The unrequited love of a dying knight is replicating the fact. The woman's beauty creates overwhelming feelings in the knight's mind in the poem as the poet writes, 'And her eyes were wild.'


The differences between allusions and illusions are clear now. Both can be found in the literature, but illusions provide delusive images, unlike allusions. Allusions are references to known facts, persons or things. Allusions assist readers in setting comparisons between two contrasting things.


Q1. What is the purpose of allusion in literature?

Ans. Allusion provides references to things, incidents or people in literature. The writer assumes that the references are known to readers.

Q2. How not to get confused with allusion and illusion?

Ans. Allusion and illusion sound almost the same. So, people get confused. But their contrasting purposes help to differentiate them in literature.

Q3. What is the purpose of illusion in literature?

Ans. Illusion provides deceptive ideas in literature, confusing the readers. And it creates an engaging writing style.

Q4. Can we use allusions in daily life?

Ans. Yes, we can use the allusions in daily life and in spoken English to refer to objects, people and events.


Simply Easy Learning

Updated on: 13-Oct-2022


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started