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Several authors use artistic or philosophical allusions throughout their works, often using the illustrative vocabulary to describe prose. Allusion is the literary device of referencing famous people, places, things, or other works such as a novel, poem, play, song, or piece of art, with the expectation that the reader will understand the reference. While readers may have to educate themselves in order to understand the full meaning of allusions made in texts written in previous eras, it is assumed that contemporaries of the author would be able to discern such references (Case & Derderian, pp. 31). The use of allusion is particularly important in historical fiction, such as The Secret Life of Bees, in which a modern author chooses a particular historical time period as the setting of a novel, for either educational or entertainment purposes.


Allusions to culture and religion frequently appear in literature. These allusions resonate with those who share the culture and help those students connect with the book. These same allusions inform those who are not of the culture and broaden their understanding. Great literature is typically considered as such because it has universal themes that transcend generations, or even centuries. But historical fiction begs its readers not only to learn from these universal themes, but also to immerse themselves in the chosen time period (Allan, pp. 167). Why? What could we possibly learn from a storyline set in a time period so foreign to us? Why is it important that the story of Lily Owens be set in 1964, or that the first page of the novel begins the week of the passing of the Voting Rights Act? And if it is important, how does Sue Monk Kidd so effectively make her readers feel as if they too were walking around in that sweltering South Carolina summer that occurred more than forty five years ago?

The answer, of course, is allusion. Kidd writes with such conscientious attention to the detail of her setting that readers are practically teleported to the time period. We can see it in the description of the landscape, both natural and manmade. We feel it in the oppressive heat experienced by characters cooling themselves with paper fans decades before air conditioning became a common household convenience. We taste the foods of both the era and the region, as Kidd weaves specific product names into vivid descriptions of southern culinary traditions. We can hear the sounds of the sixties, from loud automobiles to the television shows people are watching and the music that streams from their radios. We can even smell the particular perfumes, colognes, and soaps that Lily refers to when she describes people!

Literary Allusions

This novel is full of allusions to classic pieces of literature and authors established in the canon. Why are they mentioned? How can knowing what Lily Owens is reading help us understand who she is, her background, what she thinks about, and how she interprets the world around her? Lily is inspired by the writings ...
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