If one is not aware of the reference an allusion makes, is the impact of the phrase lost?please help me about this, the question is about the visual: what is the purpose and contribution of...

If one is not aware of the reference an allusion makes, is the impact of the phrase lost?

please help me about this, the question is about the visual:

what is the purpose and contribution of literary allusions?

if a vewer is not aware of the allusion. is the impact of the phrase lost?

for example: in bay of fundy,the tides they are a changin'

Asked on by cheemha

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auntlori's profile pic

Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This is quite a question!  I really have no idea what you mean by a "visual allusion," and the entire question is a bit of a mess for me to understand.  That being said, I'll tell you what I know about traditional literary allusions in answer to what I think you're asking, which (if I'm right) is an interesting concept to consider.

An allusion is a figure of speech which makes an indirect reference to something outside of the literature.  It's generally used to heighten or shorten a description or picture for the reader or viewer--a kind of shortcut, if you will.  Allusions almost always come from mythology, the Bible, or other works of literature.  Let me give a few examples.

Biblical allusions - He was like David facing Goliath (he was the righteous underdog who was up against a terrifying giant, yet he did so without fear).  Or, like Job, he was plagued with trouble.  (Of course, Job was afflicted by Satan with every conceivable loss--his entire family, all his possessions, excruciataing sores on his body.)

Mythology allusion - He was acting like Zeus.  (Chief of all gods, Zeus was a jealous, self-centered, and arrogant character.)

Literary allusion - She walked into the room, and everyone stared at her as if she were wearing a scarlet letter (obviously a reference to Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter and the fact that she was the source of conspicuous gossip because of the sin she committed).

So, your question (I think) is whether the impact of the allusion is lost if you don't know the original reference--if the meaning is lost if you've never heard of David, Job, Zeus, or Hester.  The answer has to be at least a partial yes.  Of course the impact of anything is diminished if you don't understand it; if not, why bother to use it?  At the same time, we've learned to make guesses about any references with which we aren't familiar.

Television shows, even silly ones, consistently use allusions to common or popular characters or works; and we've gotten pretty good at figuring out the gist of them even if we don't know the specific reference. So we kind of understand, even when we don't really know for sure. In literature, the allusions may or may not be more complex; however, we're generally pretty good at assessing the context surrounding the reference when we read, as well.

What I tell my students is this:  the more mythology, literature, and Bible they know, the richer their reading and viewing experiences will be.  When they hear a reference to something they've read, they're so excited to tell me they "got it."  Before, they enjoyed the show or the book or the movie, but now they feel as if they're "in" on the inside joke--and they didn't miss it until they knew better. The full impact of the allusion was lost on them until they learned the application. 

Understanding an allusion is like having an extra color in the rainbow or an extra layer of frosting on the cake.  You can still appreciate the rainbow or enjoy the cake--it's just more colorful or flavorful. The impact may not be lost, but it certainly will be diminished.

If this was what you meant, great.  If not, forgive me for wasting your time. 


sensei918's profile pic

sensei918 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted on

The purpose of a literary allusion is to enrich the experience of the reader by the act of bringing in references to outside sources, generally ones that will be familiar enough to the reader so that he or she can appreciate them and see the connection the author is trying to make with another work. One famous example is Martin Luther King's allusion to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address at the beginning of his "I Have A Dream" speech, which he gave at the site of the Lincoln Memorial. King opens with "Five score years ago" in reference to Lincoln's "Fourscore and seven years ago."

Of course, all allusions do not have to refer to history or literature. The one you quote, I think makes reference to Bob Dylan's song "The Times They Are A'changin'" from the 1960s.

And, yes, if you are not even aware of the source, the impact of the allusion is lost, especially if it is a pop culture allusion.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

To me, the purpose of an allusion is mainly to provide extra information to a reader.  An allusion can help the reader to better understand the point the author is trying to make without the author having to go into a lot of detail.  So if an author says that someone was, say "treated the way the whale treated Jonah" the reader will get the idea that the person was completely swallowed up.  Allusions are also meant to be fun and interesting.  After all, the author could just say that the person was swallowed up -- it just wouldn't be as fun and it wouldn't give you quite the depth of meaning that the allusion does.  Your Bay of Fundy passage has an allusion that is really just meant for fun -- it doesn't really convey an extra meaning in my mind.

Of course, you have to know what the allusion is to get any benefit.  If you've never heard of Jonah and the whale, you will get no benefit from that allusion.  Similarly, if you have not heard of the Bob Dylan song, the allusion that you mention will not even seem like an allusion at all.  You would lose out on why that is supposed to be clever and amusing.

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