How Allusions Work

You may be wondering why authors include allusions in their writing. Often an allusion can add to the context of the piece of writing. In other words, allusions can broaden your understanding of the text.

Marty’s presence at the dance was definitely a Catch-22 situation; if he talked to Cindy she’d be mad at him, but if he ignored her there’d be hell to pay. His anger bubbled to the surface. He realized that by coming to the dance he had brought his problems with him like a Trojan Horse, and he could only hope he would be able to keep them bottled up.

After rereading this passage, choose the best answer to each question below. Use your notes to write your answers.

1. What initial information do you learn about Marty as a result of the author’s allusions?

2. As Marty became angrier and angrier at the dance, what additional information do you learn about him?

Check Your Understanding

The correct answers are the following:

1. b

2. c


Longer Allusions

Image of Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech presents his vision for a better world. In order to add to the power of his words throughout the speech, Dr. King includes several allusions to the Bible and American history. Below are the opening two paragraphs from his speech. On your graphic organizer write the two allusions in this excerpt, their references, and their meanings in the passage. If you were to read the entire speech, you would probably recognize other references to verses in the Bible and events in American history. Graphic Organizer Instructions

Source: Martin Luther King—March on Washington,
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons

I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

“Five score years ago . . . .” refers to Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address speech, which began, “Four score and seven years ago . . . .” This allusion is particularly poignant given that King was speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

“It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity” alludes to Psalms 30:5, which says, “For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”