What is Stream of Consciousness Technique?

The stream of consciousness technique is a definite mode of writing novels developed in the early twentieth century. We may define stream of consciousness fiction as a type of fiction in which the basic emphasis is placed on the exploration of the pre-speech levels of consciousness for the purpose, principally, or revealing the psychic beings of the characters.

According to Melvin Friedman, the stream of consciousness is a large body of such experiments in technique and method as the interior monologue, the internal analysis, and the sensory impression. In the words of David Daiches, “The Streram of Consciousness technique is a means of escape from the tyranny of the time dimension.”

Virginia Woolf and James Joyce are the two chief practitioners of this kind of novel. Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is  assuredly the most distinguished woman writer of this generation. James Joyce (1882-1941) in whom the twentieth century passion for experiment in literary form reached its climax, was born in Dublin in 1882.

Decay of Plot:

According to Edwin Mure, the plot of the 20th century novel has died because of stream of consciousness technique. The lives of the characters are easily shown in the novels of Victronian age, but the writers of modern era refuse to depict the classical way of life, rather they are more inclined to show it in the light of stream of consciousness technique. The modern novels have abrupt ending giving multiple chances of interpretations. The incompleteness of the novel represents the incompleteness of  thought, life and belief. For the modernist the life is not a continuous flow but it is a series of separate events. Thus the novelist, like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf concentrate on the particular psychological incidents of a character rather than telling them the whole story of their life. The unity of time and place is neglected in this technique. The writer can move forth and back easily, so as to take the readers to the subconscious state of character.

Decay of Character:

Along with the decay of plot, there is decay of character in the novels where the author uses stream of consciousness technique. Earlier the characters are shown either through direct narration or through dramatic method or through the combination of these two. The manners, habits, physical appearance, nature and moral character are vividly described by the words of the characters themselves or by what others say about them. The modern novelists find flaws in this technique because through the outer presentation,  the psychological account of a character is impossible to depict. As per the modern novelist the ups and downs in the psychological region decide one action and philosophy of life. So the authors of modern travel into the subconscious and sometimes unconscious mind of the characters and involve them into the war within themselves. The conflict within self reveals the past and the possibilities of the future of a character. The true nature of a character is clearly presented by probing into the inner depths of his mind. The psychological projection of character is in a sense the death of traditional hero and villain. The heroism of the character is dissolved when we see the conflicting state of mind in him, he remains no more hero.


In the early years of the 20th century, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung propounded the new discoveries regarding the human psychology. It brought many changes in various sectors: one of them is a novel which turns into the psychologically dominated novels. It was found that the human consciousness has mainly three layers named conscious, subconscious and unconscious. The hidden desires and thoughts of human mind lay in the arena of unconscious and subconscious and they constantly keep on coming on the surface i.e. conscious mind. The upsurge of subconscious and unconscious bring change in the human personality. If proper outlet is not given to these suppressed thoughts, then any volcanic eruption may take place. The great novelists in this genre are Henry James, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Richardson, and Elizabeth Bowen.

Themes of the Modern Novel:

When the plot and character change in the modern novel, then obviously the themes also have an alteration. The traditional novel generally focuses on the didactic theme, the society, religion, culture, etc. but the modern novels stay away from these themes and deal with the themes of alienation, absurd existence, futility of work, loveless life and society, selfishness of people, the quest for self etc. The social status and social conduct were regarded to hold high in the society of traditional novel but nowadays these things have nothing to do with the individual but is counted more. The deep penetration of character’s subconscious depicts that every individual is different from each other so two different personalities cannot be same and one in the society. We have to accept the uniqueness of an individual and must present them in the novel as they are. David Daiches puts it; the theme of the modern novelist is not the relationship between gentility and morality, but ‘the relation between loneliness and love’. To sum up, an individual is treated as a little society in a modern novel, giving him more priority.

Published on 21 Jan. 2015 by Kedar Nath Sharma

Related Topics

James Joyce: Biography

Virginia Woolf: Biography