115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Getting Lost: Applying Theory and Examining Allusions within ABC’s Lost

Pamela Trayser, Arizona State University

This essay examines allusions and the application of literary theory within the television series Lost as a means of strengthening character and plot. Lost first makes allusions to historical figures through character names and attributes, as well as attaching literary theories to specific characters. During its six season run, the show strengthens both storyline and plot by presenting literary allusions (in the form of books that characters read or refer to), using these allusions as the theme for specific episodes.


This essay analyzes both the use of allusions and various literary theories within the television series Lost. As the show introduces its main characters and initial plotlines, the writers choose names for some characters from historical figures. This decision not only aids in the ability of the audience to connect faster with the character, but provides a set of traits which will go on to define the character as the show progresses. By doing this, the writers also provide a higher intellectual stimulation for the viewers that makes them an integral part of the story. For example, writers Damon Lindelof, J.J. Abrams, and Carlton Cuse name one of the central, male figures of Lost John Locke after the17th-century philosopher, then go on to utilize the historical figure’s theories as character traits for the fictional Locke. This play in plot creates a meta connection between audience and show, inviting the viewers to research and explore facts outside of the show that might influence plot or character development within the fictional realm. Lost strengthens this connection during each off-season by providing different games, clues, or puzzles that lead in to the storyline of the next season. Likewise, the writers make a point of including various books within specific episodes, creating allusions that enhance the overall theme of a specific storyline. The first instance of this occurs early in the series with the character Sawyer and the books he happens to be reading. First, elements from the novel Watership Down, such as the tide coming further onto the beach forcing the survivors to seek a new place of refuge or the scene where Charlie has been hung, occur in the same episodes when Sawyer is shown reading the novel. In other instances, books are alluded to via episode title or character dialogue as clues for the audience regarding plotlines or mysteries soon to be revealed. Finally, the writers of Lost include numerous Biblical allusions to give the island both Eden-like qualities and mystical properties. All aspects of these allusions, as well as the inclusion of various literary theories, create a partnership between the real audience and the fictional show, in turn heightening the suspense and drama of Lost.

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