We see and hear allusions all the time. Often, when we listen to a newscast or read a novel or poem, we will hear or see a reference to a name or idea that has become common knowledge. By understanding the allusion and its implied meaning, we understand the comparison being made.

See if you can figure out these popular allusions. Click on your choice.

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  1. “Big Brother is watching” refers to—

  2. a. your older sibling spying on you.
    Try again.

    b. someone in power (like the government) who monitors your moves.
    Correct! “Big Brother” comes from the novel 1984 in which the government sees all the movements of its citizens.

  1. “A Herculean task” refers to—

  2. a. a large, difficult job.
    Correct! In classic mythology, Hercules is famous for his incredible strength and for the twelve labors he performed to prove his worthiness for immortality to his father.

    b. a job in which you excel.
    Try again.

  1. “He’s just a Romeo” refers to—

  2. a. a romantic.
    Correct! “Romeo” refers to the title character from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In love with another woman at the beginning of the play, Romeo forgets all about her when he sees Juliet’s beauty.

    b. a bully.
    Try again.

  1. “She’s a good Samaritan” refers to—

  2. a. someone who performs acts of kindness.
    Correct! In the Bible, Jesus tells the story of a good Samaritan who came to the aid of an injured man when nobody else would help.

    b. someone who works overseas.
    Try again.

take notes icon
Now, let’s look at a poem that many immigrants have seen and know. The poem is “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus. This poem can be found engraved on the Statue of Liberty. Read the poem below, and then use your notes to answer the questions. When you are finished, check your understanding to see possible responses.

A photograph of the Statue of Liberty. She is dressed in a toga, holding a tablet and hoisting a torch. Her head is crowned with a spiked crown.

Source: Miss Liberty II (3010066621), Ludovic Bertron, Wikimedia

The New Colossus

By Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

  1. What does “Colossus” refer to in the title of the poem?
  2. In line 4, the poet references “a mighty woman with a torch.” Who is this woman?
Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:

  1. “Colossus” refers to a famous statue, the Colossus of Rhodes, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It depicts Helios, the sun god.
  2. The woman is the Statue of Liberty, who welcomed immigrants as they arrived at Ellis Island.

Often, allusions come from famous pieces of literature that everyone knows, such as The Wizard of Oz, mythology (like the example above), or the Bible. They may even reference famous works of art or real events.