Stream of Consciousness

As the brain changes are continuous, so do all these consciousnesses melt into each other like dissolving views. Properly they are but one protracted consciousness, one unbroken stream.

------- (William James, The Principles of Psychology, Ch. 9, 1890).(2)


William James (1842-1910)(3)

Backgroud and Introduction

When we talk about the term of “Stream of Consciousness”, people may firstly come to their mind that it is a term commonly used in narrative skill of a novel.

Actually, if we explore further about this term, we can find that it was first coined by outstanding American psychologist and philosopher William James The Principles of Psychology (1890).(1) In this book, he once wrote about" The discovery that memories, thoughts, and feelings exist outside the primary consciousness is the primary consciousness...I have been a student of that science."(4)

However, the popularity of this term developed and enriched its meaning in 20th Century from psychologists to writers and critis. (5) Stream of consciousness begins to be gradually borrowed and as a new writing skill, which is widely used in the novel by more and more writers. Some of the famous writers we can think of, or even we can not leave out, may include: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner, and so on.

Definition in Literature and Psychology
In Literature

In literature, it means a technique that records the multifarious thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence. The writer attempts by the stream of consciousness to "reflect all the forces, external and internal, influencing the psychology of a character at a single moment."(6)

In PsychologyAnd also, the second most popular meaning, of course, it is widely used in the filed of psychology, which means “the continuous flow of sense‐perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and memories in the human mind”,according to the brief definition from American Heritage Dictionary.(8)

Basic Common Characteristics(7) in Literature
² It presents life as a thought process (an interior monologue).² The ideas in a stream of consciousness text are presented as thoughts of this character throughout the narrative;² It is often considered to be a writing style that is wandering, unstable, harsh, fast-paced, and introspective because the reader is receiving the ramblings of the internal thoughts of the character;² It often focuses on sensations of our bodies and of the objects around us, memories of past experiences and thoughts of distant things, feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, desires and aversions and other emotional conditions, together with determinants of the will in every variety of permutation and combination


"Such fools we all are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June."
-Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Notable Works and Writers List (9)

Rabih Alameddine's Koolaids: The Art of War (1998), an example of a postmodern application of Stream of Consciousness
Jerzy Andrzejewski's Gates to Paradise (1960)
António Lobo Antunes's Memória de Elefante (Elephant's Memory) (1979)
Oğuz Atay's Tutunamayanlar (The Disconnected) (1972)
Will Christopher Baer's Phineas Poe trilogy (2005)
Bahram Bayzai's Death of Yazdgerd (1982)
Samuel Beckett's 'trilogy' :
Molloy (1951)
Malone Dies (1951)
The Unnamable (1953)
Alan Bennett's A Cream Cracker Under The Settee, (1987)
Giuseppe Berto's Il male oscuro (1964)
Carry van Bruggen's Eva (1927)
William Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1959)
Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy (1621)
Albert Camus' The Fall (1956)
Anton Chekov's Short Stories and Plays (1883–1903)
Daniel Clowes' "Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron"
Albert Cohen's Belle du Seigneur (1968)
Julio Cortázar's Rayuela (Hopscotch) (1963)
Michael Cunningham's The Hours (1998) (an homage to Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway)
Mark Z. Danielewski's
House of Leaves (2000)
Only Revolutions (2006)
Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren (1975)
John Dos Passos's The 42nd Parallel(1930)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground (1864)
Autran Dourado's
Voices of the Dead (1967)
Pattern for a Tapestry (1970)
Bells of Agony (1974)
Édouard Dujardin's Les Lauriers sont coupés (1888)
Dave Eggers's "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" (2000)
T. S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)
Bret Easton Ellis'
Less Than Zero (1985)
The Rules of Attraction (1987)
American Psycho (1991)
The Informers (1994)
Glamorama (1998)
Lunar Park (2005)
James Ellroy's White Jazz (1992)
William Faulkner's
The Sound and the Fury (1929)
As I Lay Dying (1930)
Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
Intruder in the Dust (1948)
Jack Feldstein's stream-of-consciousness neon animations.
Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated (2002)
F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby(1925)
Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song (1932)
Kaye Gibbons' Ellen Foster (1987)
Nadine Gordimer's July's People (1981)
Knut Hamsun's Hunger (1890) and Mysteries (1892)
Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf (1927)
Hilda Hilst's novels.
The State of America, A Journal by Doug Jackson (2010)
James Joyce's
Eveline (1914)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
Ulysses (1922)
Finnegans Wake (1939)
Jack Kerouac's
On the Road
Visions of Cody
Lonesome Traveler
"Big Sur" (1962)
Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962)- particularly Chief Bromden's thoughts during electroshock therapy.
Clarice Lispector's whole work
Hugh MacDiarmid's A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926)
Cormac McCarthy's Suttree (1979)
Patrick McCabe's The Butcher Boy (1992)
Wang Meng's Voices of Spring
Alan Duff's Once Were Warriors (1990)
Gaspar Noé's Enter the Void (2009)
Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club
Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar"
Marcel Proust In Search of Lost Time, (or À la recherche du temps perdu ) 1913 - 1927
Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow (1973)
Rumi's Masnavi (1258-1273)
Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966)
Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage (1915–28)
Mercè Rodoreda's The Time of the Doves (1962)
Kiss Me, Judas
Hell's Half Acre
Penny Dreadful (parts)
Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (1981)
Muslih al-Din Sa'di Shirazi's Bostan ("The Orchard") (completed in 1257), Gulistan ("The Rose Garden") (1258)
J. D. Salinger's
Seymour: An Introduction (1963)
The Catcher in the Rye
Arthur Schnitzler's Lieutenant Gustl (1900), 'Fräulein Else (1924)
Hubert Selby Jr.'s
Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964)
The Room (1971)
Requiem for a Dream (1978)
Sam Selvon's The Lonely Londoners (1956)
Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony(1977)
Sasha Sokolov's A School for Fools (1960)
William Styron's Lie Down in Darkness (1951)
Italo Svevo's La coscienza di Zeno (1923)
Pier Vittorio Tondelli's
Altri libertini (1980)
Pao Pao (1982)
Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun (1939)
Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (1993)
Robert Anton Wilson & Robert Shea's Illuminatus! (1975)
Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980–83)
Virginia Woolf's
Mrs. Dalloway (1925)
To the Lighthouse (1927)
The Waves (1931)

The technique has been parodied, for example, by David Lodge in the final chapter of The British Museum Is Falling Down.

Cited Works and Reference:
1. William. James, The Principles of Psychology, Chapter. 9, 18902. 4. Robert Humphrey, Stream of consciousness in the modern novel, University of California Press, Page1

Extended Links
The website contains the original term coined by William James, who first raised up the this term from the angle of psychology.
It is a good place to see who the celebrate comment on the skill of stream of consciousness in literature.
This website supplies an interesting activity for grade level 7-8 year students, which also gives us a chance to understand this term better.