Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lit Terms: Allusion

Ah, Father's Day. When we got back from the beach I watched "Finding Nemo" with my 2-year-old daughter. We chatted the whole time, mostly about what Nemo was doing and seeing, but my daughter also started pointing out connections that weren't so obvious. For example, when Bruce the shark throws the torpedo into the mines and sets off a chain reaction of explosions,


a bubble pops on the surface next to a pelican sitting on the water next to a companion in the moonlight. When the bubble pops (right next to the pelican's butt), the companion turns, frowns in disgust, says "Nice" and flies away. My daughter looked up at me, said, "Bird tooted!" and started laughing. Now she's asleep and I'm thinking about how I can help you pass the AP Exam next May.

In addition to helping with Montaigne and providing a forum for comments/questions on all the summer texts, this blog will also feature sample AP-style quizzes and topics for writing. Try the exercises in the posts and see what you do well and what you need to work on (also, compare your answers with your colleagues'-- this is an advantage of writing online as opposed to turning in a single copy). This self-evaluation will be an important part of our first two weeks.

I will also use the blog to start you off on the literature terms you're going to need.

The first one is...

ALLUSION: an author's reference to something s/he thinks you should know.

Allusion is an inside joke or understanding between author and reader. Watch the scene in VIDEO #1 (see below), featuring the aforementioned shark named Bruce. At the very end of this clip he peers through an opening at his intended prey and says, "Heeere's Brucie!" My daughter giggles at this point because Bruce is clearly out of his mind. Besides, we've seen this before; she knows Marlin and Dory escape, and Bruce turns out alright after all. But since all my daughter knows about "Heeere's Brucie!" is what's right in front of her, she misses out on some of the humor and most of the information contained in this scene. The allusion to 12-step recovery programs (e.g., standing up in front of a group and saying "Hi, I'm _______...") makes me reflect on the absurdity of sharks working on image problems and addictive behavior. This can also be taken as a satirical comment on the lengths some people have to go in this society just to treat themselves well. "Heeere's Brucie!" also makes me think of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" (VIDEO #2, below) and the bizarr-o displacement of a homicidal maniac in a children's cartoon. And then, to add yet another layer, I find myself thinking that it's sort of weird for such an innocent line (see VIDEO #3, below) to become popular in such a different and scary way (well, it seemed scary the first time I saw it). Using allusion instead of just having a shark turn mean at the smell of blood helps make Bruce's character more "human" and also invites viewers to apply their own references to "Heeeere's Johnny!" The more viewers know, the more fun they have interpreting the mash-up of images in their heads while Brucie tosses the torpedo at the mines and Marlin and Dory escape. This will also give you something more interesting to say than "So, um, yeah..." when James Franco (a Ph.D. candidate in literature himself) pulls you aside at the Academy Awards after party* and says:

[*You may not get to the Oscars, but you will get to the AP Exam, and questions like this await you there too. I borrowed the idea and basic structure for this one from from the 2011 AP Literature Exam.]

"Hey, I once read this novel by William Styron where a father tells his son that life 'is a search for justice.' So, you saw "Finding Nemo, right? Do you think either Marlin or Nemo understood justice? Do you think their searches for justice were successful or were they looking for something else? What do you think their struggles say about us and the world we make for ourselves?"

Knowledgeable viewers/readers who can connect the dots also understand the deeper subject, what "Finding Nemo" (and every other story) is really all about: us.



[BEFORE YOU WATCH: The original "Heeere's Johnny!" (as invented by Ed McMahon for the pre-Leno Johnny Carson-era "Tonight Show") takes approximately the first three seconds of this clip, followed by a 1:27 "stretched out" version that is guaranteed to annoy you and everyone else within earshot. For more on Ed McMahon check out the youtube link "Remembering Ed McMahon" from CBS]


  1. wow, that last video really was annoying...

  2. yessss!!! finally able to comment!