Literature and The Simpsons

Last week’s post on Simpsons courses had me thinking a bit more about The Simpsons and literature. What a fun idea for a class that would be. Seems to me there would be a lot to work with, since the show has a long history of literary allusions, one-off gags, and punny episode titles. I wonder how long it would take me to compile an exhaustive list of literary allusions … probably too long. But, for now, here are some of my favorites that readily come to mind.

ps: Any good ones to add to the list? Let me know.

Episode Allusions:

Poe’s “The Raven”

Homer’s Odyssey and Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Tales from the Public Domain)

Poe’s “The Telltale Heart” (Lisa’s Rival)

Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon (HOMR)

Golding’s Lord of the Flies (Das Bus)

Twain’s Tom Swayer and Huck Finn (Simpsons Tall Tales)

Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Four Great Women and a Manicure)

Rand’s The Fountainhead (Four Great Women and a Manicure)

Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (Revenge is a Dish Best Served Three Times)

Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire” (A Streetcar Named Marge)

Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes (Treehouse of Horror XV)

Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (The Man in the Blue Flannel Pants)

Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (Treehouse of Horror XXII). The best Brothers Karamazov fart joke in recent memory, thanks Fictional Characters Reading Fiction Tumblr!

Quote Allusions:

Mr. Burns: “It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times?! You stupid monkey!” (Last Exit to Springfield)

(See also: Infinite monkey theorem)

Kent Brockman: “In fact, every copy of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” has been checked out from the Springfield Public Library. Of course the book does not contain any hints on how to win the lottery, it is rather a chilling tale of conformity gone mad.” (Dog of Death)

Mr. Burns: “Good bye, Springfield. From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee!” (Last Exit to Springfield)

Homer: “Lisa, the point of Moby Dick is to be yourself.” (The Fat and the Furriest)

Lisa: “Well, Pablo Neruda says that laughter is language of the soul.”

Bart: “I am aware of the works of Pablo Neruda.” (Bart Sells His Soul)

“Is this the end of Zombie Shakespeare?” (Treehouse of Horror III)

Homer: “Marge, name one successful person in life who ever lived without air conditioning.”

Marge: “Balzac!”

Homer: “No need for potty mouth just because you can’t think of one.”

Marge: “But Balzac was his name!”

Homer: “ ‘If if’s and but’s where candy and nuts …’ eh, how does the rest of that go?” (Lisa’s Sax)

Marge: “Did you invite one of your friends?”

Lisa: “Friends? Ha! These are my only friends: Grown-up nerds like Gore Vidal. And even he’s kissed more boys than I ever will.”

Marge: “Girls, Lisa. Boys kiss girls.” (Summer of 4 Ft. 2)


“I saw the best meals of my generation

destroyed by the madness of my brother.

My soul carved in slices

by spikey-haired demons.” (Bart vs. Thanksgiving)

Homer: “‘Here lies’ — Walt Whitman?! Damn you, Walt Whitman! [kicking tombstone] I hate you, Walt freakin’ Whitman! ‘Leaves of Grass,’ my ass!” (Mother Simpson)

(Politically Inept, with Homer Simpson)

Mr. Burns: “Taking an idea I got from a Stephen King book, I’m going to cover this town with a dome!”

Lenny: “It’s been done”

Mr. Burns: “Really? You don’t say. Smithers, did you know about this?” (The Fool Monty)

(I had qualms about Stephen King on my literary references list. But it’s funny, so it makes the list. For more on this one, check out Neatorama: “Which Came First, Under the Dome, or The Simpsons Movie?”)

Guest Appearances:

Robert Pinsky (Little Girl in the Big Ten)

George Plimpton (I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can)

John Updike, Amy Tan, and Stephen King (Insane Clown Poppy)

Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen (Moe’N’a Lisa)

And of course that episode with Thomas Pynchon (Diatribe of a Mad Housewife)

Neil Gaiman (The Book Job)

For even more, The Atlantic has a stupendous list: “A Visual History of Literary References.”

* [Update] A few more to add to the list, courtesy of The Lisa Simpson Book Club. I’m very impressed by the effort that went into the bookshelf of Lisa Simpson. The metatextual implications of an animated character’s collection of literature is just delightful.

**[Updated Update]: Check out this great list, “Unexpected Literary References” compiled by Caleb Ross. Thanks for the reminder about Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”!


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I run the ThinkLab at the University of Cambridge, and research digital habits, productivity, and wellbeing.

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