Joyce, Woolf, and Stream of Consciousness
In reality, the human mind lacks a narrator: we do not think or reason or perceive in sentences that are fully formed or even logical. The writers of the twentieth century modernist movement believed that this truth was not properly expressed by the traditional narrative of the time, and so experimented with a then unfamiliar technique: the stream of consciousness (Barnes). A narrative almost solidly fixed in the character’s head, stream of consciousness allows the reader a view into the flowing abstract thoughts involved in the mundane and monumental moments of his or her life. The stream of consciousness style can be difficult to understand and adjust to, but when handled properly by such writers as James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, it can allow a deeper connection between the reader and the story.
“Stream of consciousness” was coined by William James in 1890, but as a psychological description of the actual phenomena of flowing thoughts rather than the literary reproduction of it (Humphrey 1). It is difficult to give a fixed definition for the technique, as it has several permutations that have been used by the writers that would be said to define the genre (Bowling 333). However, the general idea of the technique is that, rather than with a traditional narration, the story is related through the direct thoughts and feelings of the character(s). The narrative is almost exclusively in a character’s head, reviewing thoughts and perceptions as they arise. It is often unbroken and can switch train of thought abruptly. While traditional style would have the reader see the characters’ emotional reactions to various situations through single, objective words (melancholy, anger, alarm, etc.) the modernists adopted a show-rather-than-tell mentality through the use of stream of consciousness. To put it simply, “stream of conscious [sic] is a...