Stream of consciousness (narrative mode)

In literary criticism, stream of consciousness is a narrative mode or method that attempts to depict the multitudinous thoughts and feelings which pass through the mind.[1] The term was coined by William James in 1890 in his The Principles of Psychology, and in 1918 the novelist May Sinclair (1863–1946) first applied the term stream of consciousness, in a literary context, when discussing Dorothy Richardson's (1873–1957) novels. Pointed Roofs (1915), the first work in Richardson's series of 13 semi-autobiographical novels titled Pilgrimage,[2] is the first complete stream of consciousness novel published in English. However, in 1934, Richardson comments that "Proust, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf & D.R. ... were all using 'the new method', though very differently, simultaneously".[3] There were, however, many earlier precursors and the technique is still used by contemporary writers.


Stream of consciousness is a narrative device that attempts to give the written equivalent of the character's thought processes, either in a loose interior monologue (see below), or in connection to his or her actions. Stream of consciousness writing is usually regarded as a special form of interior monologue and is characterized by associative leaps in thought and lack of some or all punctuation.[4] Stream of consciousness and interior monologue are distinguished from dramatic monologue and soliloquy, where the speaker is addressing an audience or a third person, which are chiefly used in poetry or drama. In stream of consciousness the speaker's thought processes are more often depicted as overheard in the mind (or addressed to oneself); it is primarily a fictional device.

The term "stream of consciousness" was coined by philosopher and psychologist William James in The Principles of Psychology (1890):

consciousness, then, does not appear to itself as chopped up in bits ... it is nothing joined; it flows. A 'river' or a 'stream' are the metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let's call it the stream of thought, consciousness, or subjective life.[5]

Cover of James Joyce's Ulysses (first edition, 1922), considered a prime example of stream of consciousness writing styles.

In the following example of stream of consciousness from James Joyce's Ulysses, Molly seeks sleep:

a quarter after what an unearthly hour I suppose theyre just getting up in China now combing out their pigtails for the day well soon have the nuns ringing the angelus theyve nobody coming in to spoil their sleep except an odd priest or two for his night office the alarmlock next door at cockshout clattering the brains out of itself let me see if I can doze off 1 2 3 4 5 what kind of flowers are those they invented like the stars the wallpaper in Lombard street was much nicer the apron he gave me was like that something only I only wore it twice better lower this lamp and try again so that I can get up early [6]

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