What are some examples of allusions in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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In one of his handbills, the fraudulent duke bills himself as “world-renowned Shakespearian tragedian, Garrick the Younger, of Drury Lane, London.” This is an allusion to the very famous David Garrick, an extremely well-regarded actor from the eighteenth century who had a theater at Drury Lane in London.

The duke also alludes to the famous balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet when he mentions:

Juliet’s in a balcony, enjoying the moonlight before she goes to bed, and she’s got on her night-gown and her ruffled nightcap.

Some of the humor comes in the fact that the original Juliet would not have worn a ruffled Victorian nightcap.

When the duke tries to piece together Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy, he inserts an allusion to a different play, Macbeth, when he says "till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane."

A Macbeth allusion, again misplaced, enters the same Hamlet soliloquy in "the poor cat i’ the adage." The poor cat in the adage liked fish but did not like getting its paw wet catching them. This alludes to Macbeth wanting to be king but not wanting to do the dirty work to get the crown.

In his Shakespeare playbill, the duke also alludes to David Kean, yet another famous British Shakespearean actor who had already died.

Huck describes the Grangerford house as "whitewashed on the outside." Although he may not be conscious of what he is saying, Biblically literate readers would have quickly understood this as an allusion to both the books of Matthew and Luke in which Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being cups that are white and clean on the outside but not so on the inside. This is an apt description of the feuding, slave-owning Grangerfords who go to church armed with rifles and have paintings, a piano, and beautiful furniture—as if they are gracious and noble—while owning other human beings.

Many of the allusions in the novel are humorous, playing on the idea that the reader is more knowledgeable than the characters.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on December 19, 2019
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There is no question that Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is replete with allusions. Below, I have listed others that have not previously been mentioned.

Biblical Allusions:

  • In Chapter VI, Huck describes his disreputable father as "raising Cain" around town every time that he had some money because he always got drunk. This colloquial expression alludes to Cain of The Book of Genesis.
  • In Chapter VI, Huck further describes how his drunken father would chase him around with a clasp-knife, "calling me the Angel of Death and saying he would kill me and then I couldn't come for him no more." In the Bible, there is no direct naming of "the Angel of Death," but there are several allusions to angels bringing death. For instance, in 1 Chronicles 21: 15-16, there is reference to an angel bringing death: "And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it." 
  • In Chapter XIV, Huck reads to Jim about kings and dukes and earls, but Jim tells him that the only king he has heard about is "King Sollerman" -- King Solomon in the Bible.
  • In Chapter XIX, Huck mentions "Goliar," meaning Goliath, the giant of the Philistines who lost to David of the Israelites.
  • In Chapter XXXIII, Methuselah, a biblical patriarch who was said to have lived 969 years, is mentioned.

Fine Arts and Historical Allusions:

  • In Chapter XVII, Huck stays with the Grangerfords, a family involved in a feud with another family. Emmeline Grangerford writes poetry and tributes to the members of her family who have died in their feud with the Shepherdsons. One of her dead relatives was named Whistler, the same name as the American painter.
    On the Grangerfords' walls, there are pictures that hang on the walls. These depict George Washington, Lafayette, the "Signing of the Declaration," and "Highland Mary," the name of Scottish poet Robert Burns's first love, who he immortalized in several poems.
  • In Chapter XXXII, a riverboat is named the Lalla Rookh after a popular Romantic poem by Thomas Moore.
  • The Duke and the King fabricate their heritage as they mention Charlemagne, the emperor of the Western world (800-814). Further, the Duke claims to be the Dauphin, the son of "Looy the Sixteen and Marry Antoinette," King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who were both killed during the French Revolution.


  • In Chapter XXVI, Huck is staying in the Wilks' home, and Huck and the "hare-lip" have supper in the kitchen. She questions Huck about England, and he makes a mistake about Sheffield being on the sea when it is not. To cover his error, Huck asks her if she has never heard of Congress water. This is famous mineral water from the Congress Spring in Saratoga, New York.
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A few allusions that come to mind are shown in the Grangerford and Shepardson feud and the Hamlet soliloquy performed by the King in the traveling Nonesuch show.  The feud between the Grangerford and Shepardsons alludes to Romeo and Juliet, a play by William Shakespeare.   Harney Shepardson and Sophia Grangerford are two “star-crossed lovers” embroiled in the feud between two wealthy families.  Huck stumbles upon the Grangerfords and quickly becomes involved in the two lovers affair when he discovers they have been secretly sending notes back and forth to each other by hiding them in a psalm book at church.  Huck learns that they are going to run off together, and when they do, it starts a great battle between the two families, and Buck, Huck’s friend is killed. 

Another allusion is the “classy” performance of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, “To be or not to be” by the King.  The King’s performance actually includes famous lines from other Shakespearean plays including, Macbeth and Richard III.  The soliloquy shows the ignorance of the King, the Duke, and the audience at the show.  Readers of the time the novel was published would have picked up on this menagerie of famous Shakespearean lines and would have found this funny.

Other allusions include the story of the Dauphin King that Huck tells Jim, the grounding of the Walter Scott in the river, and Tom’s crazy antics that represent Romantic literary conventions. 

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