Difference Between Allusion and Illusion

Main Difference – Allusion vs Illusion

Allusion and illusion are two literary terms that are often confused by students. The main difference between allusion and illusion is that allusion is a literary device where the author makes brief and implicit reference to a place, person, event or idea of cultural, historical, political, or literary importance whereas illusion is an erroneous perception of reality.

What is Allusion

Allusion is a literary device where the author makes a brief reference to a famous historical or literary figure or event or work of literature. This reference does not describe person or thing to which it refers in detail; it is just a passing comment. Although this kind of comments is added intentionally, only the readers who have a prior knowledge of the person or thing refer to can spot the use of allusion in the work.

Allusion is a common figure of speech, used even in our day to day conversations. Here are some allusion examples from daily speech:

She didn’t know she has opened the Pandora’s Box, with her questions. – Allusion to Greek mythological character Pandora

He is a real Romeo – Allusion to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

That place is like the Garden of Eden – Allusion to the garden of God in the book of Genesis

Examples of Allusion in Literature

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.” 

Wilfred Owen, “Dulce et decorum est”- allusion to Odes iii.2.13 by the Roman poet Horace

“Another age shall see the golden ear

Embrown the slope, and nod on the parterre,

Deep harvests bury all his pride has plann’d,

And laughing Ceres reassume the land.”

“Epistles to Several Persons” by Alexander Pope – allusion to Demeter, the Goddess of Wheat and Grain

“When King Cophetua lov’d the beggar maid!

He heareth not, he stirreth not, be moveth not;”

“Romeo and Juliet” Shakespeare – allusion to the legend of “The King and the Beggar-maid”

Main Difference - Allusion vs Illusion

Allusion to Greek mythology can be found in many literary works.

What is Illusion

The term allusion is often confused with illusion. Illusion can be described as an erroneous perception of reality. It is something misleading and open to misinterpretations. When your senses and mine deceive you, an illusion is created. For example, think of a mirage; a mirage creates an illusion of water but is not real.

In literature, illusion can be something experienced by a character.

For example, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the outward friendly and honest nature of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth towards King Duncan is a just an illusion

“Look like the innocent flower,

But be the serpent under it.”

Illusion vs reality is also a common theme in many literary works. It is a prominent theme in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Hamlet, A Winter’s Tale, etc.Difference Between Allusion and Illusion

Difference Between Allusion and Illusion


Allusion is a brief reference to a person, place, thing or idea of historical, cultural, literary or political significance.

Illusion is an erroneous perception of reality.


Allusion is a literary device.

Illusion vs reality is a common theme in literature.Difference Between Allusion and Illusion - infographic

Image Courtesy:

Image 1 by Raphael – Web Gallery of Art (Public Domain), Wikimedia Commons 

Image 2 By Théodore Chassériau (Public Domain), Wikimedia Commons 

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