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Teaching Allusion in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Students think the monster's name is Frankenstein. They think that an "allusion" is the same as an "illusion." As you are teaching Frankenstein, teach allusions too.

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    Important Definitions

    Before teaching allusions, make sure students understand what it is. They also need to know its strengths and weaknesses.

    • Allusion - a figure of speech that makes a reference or representation of, or to, a well-known person, place, event, literary work, or work of art.
    • An allusion allows an author to make a powerful point without having to actually explain it.
    • When using an allusion, the author assumes that the reader is familiar with the item being alluded to.
    • An allusion is ineffective if the reader is not familiar with the item being alluded to.
    • Publishers use footnotes or side notes to help modern readers understand allusions that may no longer be common knowledge.
    • An "allusion" is not the same as an "illusion".
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    Proper Teaching Tips

    Teaching Frankenstein requires a knowledge of British Romanticism and selected writings. Familiarizing students with the period will make teaching Frankenstein and teaching allusions more effective.

    1. Read or summarize Rime of the Ancient Mariner By Coleridge. There are numerous allusions to it in the novel.
    2. Read or summarize the story of Zeus and Prometheus. The full title of the novel is Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.
    3. Instruct students to copy the above information on allusions.
    4. Make a chart on the board:
      • The chart should contain three columns with the following headers:
        1. Example of Allusion
        2. Explanation of the Allusion
        3. Purpose of the Allusion
      • The chart should contain 5-10 rows.
    5. Instruct students to find allusions from the novel and copy them down in column 1.
    6. Instruct students to explain the allusion in column 2.
    7. Instruct students to analyze the purpose of the allusion in column 3.
    8. Have students write a paragraph or essay analyzing allusion. It can be a timed-writing assignment or a formal academic writing assignment.
      • Why does Shelley make so many allusions to Rime of the Ancient Mariner?
      • How does Shelley's use of allusions help you understand the loneliness of the monster?
      • Compare Dr. Frankenstein to Prometheus.