Monday, January 12, 2009
Virginia Woolf’s name is practically synonymous to the literary term stream-of-consciousness because any of her great works employs this technique. Mrs. Dalloway, for example, is a novel that uses this unconventional mode of narration which attempts to encompass the entire range and uninterrupted flow of the character’s mental process. First used in 1890 by writer Henry James’ psychologist brother William, it illustrates the continuous flow of thought and awareness of the conscious mind. With its appropriation in literature during the flowering of modernism in the beginning decades of the twentieth century, stream-of-consciousness has been contextualized to mean novelists’ narrative method of depicting the unspoken thoughts and feelings of their characters minus the objectivity and the need to verbalize them. There are associative and dissociative jumps in syntax and punctuation, i.e. ellipses and dashes, reflecting the characters’ fragmentary thoughts and sensory emotions but making the text hard to follow. Thus, the characters’ sense perceptions fuse conscious and half-conscious thoughts and memories, feelings, experiences, histories and random links, revealing an internal exploration that manifests significant traits. Alternately known as interior monologue, it broke the ground of literature through writers like Woolf, James Joyce and Dorothy Richardson who narrated image and thought flows lacking structural coherence and cohesion and whose writings have plots that move in and out of place and time. As such, the technique creates a textual parallel to the fictional characters’ consciousness, making the readers eavesdrop on what goes on in the characters’ minds and making them access their most private thoughts. Some of the prominent stream-of-consciousness masterpieces include T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Richardson's Pilgrimage, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, Woolf's To the Lighthouse and The Waves, Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness, Samuel Beckett's Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, William Burroughs's Naked Lunch, J. D. Salinger's Seymour: An Introduction, Julio Cortázar's Rayuela (Hopscotch), Nadine Gordimer's July's People, Clarice Lispector's The Apple in the Dark, among others.
Stream-of-consciousness is a departure from the traditional literary style because it provides an insight into fictional characters’ genuine state of minds and feelings, which may otherwise be concealed in insincere dialogues and ambiguous actions. It is a way of divulging the inner lives of characters for readers’ interpretation, something unattainable in real life. Hence, it is a modern device that provides believable textual expressions of imagined thoughts still prevalent in contemporary world literature.