By Syed Muhammad Taqi

The concept of stream of consciousness has added a new significant perspective to the art of modern prose fiction

It has enlarged the scope of fiction and enriched it beyond measure.

Leon Edel

The supporters of this concept have explored a new realm of subjective experience. They have endeavored to portray the depth and complexity of human consciousness as sincerely as possible

This new genre came to life between 1913 and 1915. At the dawn of the first world war three novelists, unknown to each other, were writing works that had a remarkable influence on English fiction. In France Marcel Proust published in 1913 the first two volumes of the eight-part work we know today as Remembrance of things past. While these volumes were in press, an English Woman named Dorothy Miller Richardson began writing the literary piece named Pilgrimage. While these works were being launched, James Joyce an Irish man wrote and published a serial form of a novel titled Portrait of the Artist as a Young man. In this manner, a new type of novel came into existence what we know as stream of consciousness novel. That is the novel of the silent, the internal monologue, and in French letters. According to Leon Edel, Dorothy Richardson, Marcel Proust and James Joyce turned fiction away from external to internal reality, from the outer world to the anonymous world of fantasy and imagination. The stream of consciousness fiction reflected the tendency towards subjectivity, introspection, and a growing interest in the inmost recesses of human consciousness

The stream-of-consciousness novel gives the reader an opportunity to explore hidden recesses of consciousness and concentrates attention on what J.W Beach calls ‘passive states of mind’, which are undirected by rational thought or a sense of practical need or conduct. The traditional novel ignores whatever is going on in human consciousness, and instead focuses mainly on the plot and the story. Stream-of-consciousness fiction did not impose a coherent and logical pattern on life and dispensed with formal storytelling and characterization in order to reveal the depths and fluidity of human consciousness. Life at pre-speech level consciousness is chaotic and incoherent; it lacks pattern or logical sequence and does not shape itself into a story.  A well-made and planned plot or story is something invented a made up. It avoids reality. On the contrary, the stream of consciousness novel presents character as a process, not a state (David Daiches)

The stream of conscious writers Often utilize figurative language, rhetorical devices, and expressive symbols and images to portray the flux and privacy of consciousness

This use of rhetorical figures is a feature of stream of consciousness writing which stems naturally from the attempt to reproduce the broken, seemingly incoherent, disjointed texture of the process of consciousness when they are not deliberately screened for direct communication.

Robert Humphrey

Frederich J Hoffman gives a spectacular analysis of these varying levels of fictional writings in his book Two Decades of Criticism. This technique plunges us into varying degrees of depth.

First the traditional. This method accepts all conscious controls of speech, and thought and experience. It uses all the recognised systems of communication. Within the limits of this method of writing, almost all types of behaviour can be described

Second, the level of the Preconscious. The chief difference between this and logical discourse is formers greater fluidity, and its less obvious attachment to the rules of sentence structure and word meanings

Third, the level of Subconscious. In this level of writing, much of the control of the conscious mind over the will is lifted. Though apparently lifted the control is nevertheless present and indirectly guides the flow of thought and formation of imagery

Fourth, the level of Unconscious. Here the narrative style and content both try to free themselves completely from rational control and give a verbal rendering of the behaviour pattern of the psychical unconscious.

Edouard Dujardin, who first used the interior monologue in his novel Les Lauriers Sort coupe’s. In the direct interior monologue, the author effaces himself almost completely and offers no guidance or explanatory comments. He puts himself inside the consciousness of his leading characters who reveal their stream of consciousness directly

In an indirect interior monologue, the reader is given a sense of the author’s continuous presence. That type of interior monologue in which omniscient author presents unspoken material as if directly from the consciousness of a character, with commentary and description to guide the reader through it”

Stream of consciousness writers make good use of omniscient description. The authors sometimes take the role of an omniscient narrator.

The flux of consciousness lacks form and coherence. It has no logical sequence and is apparently chaotic


The aggressive approach of stream of consciousness fiction has often baffled critical opinion. This new genre disregarded rational thought and the commonly accepted syntax and diction. It evaded the rules of grammatical construction and evolved strange cryptic medium of expression. Hence the stream of consciousness is dismissed as essentially morbid, unwholesome altogether destitute of artistic beauty and merit.

However, one can’t cast aside the territories the psychological novel had made in fiction. It has explored a new realm of experience and revealed amazing depths and fluidity of human consciousness. It has brought to the limelight the deepest recesses of the mind and depicted psychic processes with remarkable art and skill

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