Difference between Allusion and Illusion

The terms illusion and allusion sound quite similar, and they both have connotations of intangibility. Hence, many students, including writers, are often confused. Since both are so close in terms of spelling, it can be frustrating to remember their meanings. Their root language is Latin,” Alludere” means “to hint” and “Illudere” means “to mock”. Due to similarity, even citizens of ancient Rome also had mixed them. Let’s have a closer look at them


An “Allusion” is a figure of speech and reference, direct or implied, to something or someone. They are often found in books, songs, and movies. Most allusions are based on the assumptions that are some knowledge shared by the author to make it understandable for the reader. It can be a reference to the idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance. It does not show the details of the reference. It is an essential part of understanding literature because they give us a deep understanding of the author’s message. A writer can skillfully draw upon allusions to give his piece more meaning or to provide clues about his message. Allusions help to contextualize the work. Details are not given, so the writer lets the reader fill in the blanks for better understanding. They are often from past work or religion, but sometimes allusions are made to current famous people or events. They are used metaphorically but can be used ironically.

There are five main types of allusion:

  1. Historical Allusion
  2. Mythological Allusion
  3. Literary allusion
  4. Religious Allusion
  5. Cultural Allusion

Let’s explore further:

  1. Historical Allusion: The statement that refers to the history is called Historical Allusion.

Example: There’s a civil war going on in my family regarding cousin marriage.

  1. Mythological Allusion: An Allusion that hints at a piece of mythology are a mythological allusion.

Example: She ran faster than Hermes.

  1. Literary Allusion: An allusion that refers to literary text or figure is known as Literary Allusion.

Example: I went to bed with my hair wet, and I woke up looking like Medusa.

  1. Religious/Biblical Allusion: A statement that refers to the Bible without directly mentioning it is Religious or Biblical allusion.

Example: It’s been raining so long that soon we’re going to need an arc.

  1. Cultural Allusion: A cultural allusion is an association of a person, place, or event within a specific community or culture.

Example: Something weird is going on – my spidey sense is tingling.

Effects of Allusion

It helps the reader/ viewer understand new information such as character, setting, plot, etc. by connecting it to something already well known. It may provide credibility to an argument. It makes the reader think and relate his previous knowledge.

Examples of Allusion in poetry

All Overgrown by Cunning Moss by Emily Dickinson

All overgrown by cunning moss
All interspersed with weed,
The little cage of “Currer Bell”
In quiet “Haworth” laid.

Here Emily Dickinson makes an allusion to Currer Bell, which was the pen name of English author Charlotte Bronte.

Example of Allusion in the novel

The Outsider by S.E. Hinton

“Pony boy.”
I barely heard him. I came closer and leaned over to hear what he was going to say.
“Stay gold, Pony boy. Stay gold….” The pillow seemed to sink a little, and Johnny died

The last lines from Hinton’s classic coming of age story is an example of both external and internal allusion. This scene has a direct reference to a real poem that originated from ‘outside’ the novel.


An illusion is a misrepresentation of a real sensory stimulus – that is, an interpretation that contradicts objective “reality” as defined by general agreement. It is a false illustration or a deceptive impression or fallacious belief. The writer deceives the reader’s senses, making them imagine the present by illustrating certain details. It is actually a trick that allows our brain to sense something that isn’t there; it can be another literary work, a place, an event, or a person. It helps the reader to go deep in his imagination and make a memorable connection to the text. It is a delusion of real sensation. Its purpose is to surprise and mention something interesting to entertain their audience. It helps the readers to make an emotional bonding with the contextual framework. It is also a hint for the reader to predict where the plot is going to be.

There are three main types of illusion:

  1. Literal Illusion.
  2. Cognitive Illusion
  3. Physiological Illusion.
  1. Literal Illusion: A literal illusion image is different than the object that creates it. This is the simplest and easy to understand. We can mostly found them in art.
  2. Cognitive Illusion: It is usually a picture that is meant to show some ambitious image. It confuses the senses and requires mind focusing or attention. We can say that It is a thinking trap.
  3. Physiological Illusion: A physiological illusions cause a person to see a part of an image that is not actually there. It is usually a repeating pattern or multiple copies. 

Illusion In literature

There is no doubt illusions play a vital role in literature; it sharpens the reader’s imagination and perception. Here are some examples from the literature for a better look.

la belle dame sans merci by John Keats

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

In this poem, Keats’ center of interest is to enhance illusion in the reader’s mind. The dying knight meets a beautiful woman. The illusion of her love and beauty overwhelms him. The major theme of this poem is illusion vs. reality.

Tempest by William Shakespeare

In this work, Shakespeare was able to explore not only the human psyche and characteristic of humanity but also investigated the natural and unnatural world. He also explores the relationship between reality and illusion. Throughout the play, he portrays that illusion may be used to veil reality. Still, in the end, reality always makes itself apparent through human actions.

In short, allusion and illusion both are effective tools in writing. An allusion is a brief reference, whereas an illusion is an erroneous perception. An allusion is a literary device, and illusion vs. reality is a common theme in literature.