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Stream of Consciousness

Stream of consciousness is a style of writing in which thoughts are conveyed without a filter or clear punctuation.

These thoughts, observations, and feelings are unfiltered. They come one after another, outlining in varying degrees of detail, any given situation.


History of Stream of Consciousness

It was first published by Alexander Bain in 1855 in The Senses and the Intellect. But, it is also often credited to psychologist William James who wrote about it in Principles of Psychology. James describes this way of thinking and writing as a “river” or a “stream”.

Mary Sinclair was the first writer to use the term in regard to literature, specifically when she was talking about the novels of Dorthy Richardson. The first of these novels, Pilgrimage, (a semi-autobiographical story) is considered to be the first example of a stream of consciousness writing in the English language. Despite these complex origins, here are examples of this style of writing in the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Leo Tolstoy, among others.


Purpose of Stream of Consciousness

Writers use this technique in order to convey the entirey of a character’s thought process. IT is similar to an interior monology in which nothing is filtered out of altered to suit those listening. There is often a lack of punctuation stream of consciousness writing, allowing one sentence to move into the next freely as it does in one’s mind.

By using this style of writing the author is able to take the reader deeper into the character’s mind. They can bring out facets of a character’s personality, their deepest feelings, and judgments, as well as more clearly explain why a character feels the way they do. Their mind can almost be depicted in its entirety depending on how devoted a novel or story is to a specific character.


Examples of Stream of Consciousness in Literature

Example #1 Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway is one of the most famous examples of a stream of consciousness style narration. In Woolf’s novel, the main character’s inner thoughts are clearly articulated. A reader is able to get a full picture of her mind and more easily understand why she does the things she does. This technique is found in several other Woolf novels, include To the Lighthouse. 


Example #2 Ulysses by James Joyce 

This is another very well-known example of a stream of consciousness novel. The novel follows one character, Leopold Bloom through a day in his life. There are many very long passages of stream of consciousness in the story that help the reader understand the associations that Bloom makes and how he is understanding his surroundings.


Example #3 On the Road by Jack Kerouac

this is a more modern example of the technique of stream of consciousness. Kerouac’s best-known novel follows the travels of Sal Paradise who moves back and forth across America. He takes various jobs and meets many interesting characters.


Example #4 Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

This seven-volume long work is jam-packed full of image-rich and stream of consciousness style passages. Mundane. everyday experiences are elevated in a reader’s mind and made infinitely more complex. One of the best examples is the scene with the petite madeleine.

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