An allusion is a figure of speech that indirectly references something, such as a novel, song, play, television program, poem, a religious text, historical figure or event. Because allusions are indirect, the reader is required to make the connection themselves. Many allusions have entered everyday speech as cliches. We often talk about someone’s weakness as their ‘Achilles’ heel’, an allusion to the Greek myth of Achilles. If someone has mood swings we might refer to them as ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, an allusion to The Strange Case of Jekyll Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Or, if someone is being overly romantic, we might call them ‘Romeo’ a reference to Romeo and Juliet. In persuasive writing, allusion prompt readers to think about the issue in the context of such associations. The use this technique also allows the writer to ingratiate themselves with readers, who often feel clever if they pick up on a particularly subtle allusions. 

Allusion in action

Activity: Read the following opinion piece, identify persuasive techniques, including the use of allusion, and explain the effect they may have on the intended audience. 

Click here to download the ‘Bah, humbug to consumerism’ worksheet to help you analyse this article.

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