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James Joyce and Stream of Consciousness Definition – LIT511

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literature, poetry, research


Feedback from my professor was that my post was too long.  How can you assign so many pieces to read and NOT expect a long response? Oh Well…

The definition I offer for stream-of-consciousness writing is: “Verbalization of a period of time during which the substance of thought is provided, irrespective of its apparent context in time, place, or occurrences.” As an example of this definition, imagine recording your thoughts (or those of another’s) as they occur during a normal day. I view an interior monologue as internal dialogue. Generally, it follows a normal “speaker-listener” or “cause-response” order. It can be true that “stream-of-thought passages, difficult to understand at a first reading…recall widely separated thoughts, memories, utterances, sights, sounds, and smells compressed into a moment of exceptional intensity” (Kern 90). Sometimes there is an orderly pattern, other times there is not. If psychiatrists or psychologists could understand why that is, things would change greatly in those fields of study! Now I have to present examples from the texts we read in this Module. Regarding the pieces from Dubliners, since I do not know in what order they were written, I address them in the order they appear in the book.

Dubliners presents us with James Joyce’s short stories written before Ulysses. In “The Sisters,” Joyce begins toying with what would become his method later in Ulysses of non-punctuated stream-of-consciousness writing. First, I cannot find the name of the boy who is the speaker.  Second, when the boy goes to bed “still angry at the Cotter” (Joyce Dubliners 9), his dream is much freer of a normal chronological story. So this story, “The Sisters,” is told through the voice of a narrator, but the dream sequence just mentioned, and the narrator’s memories of the dead priest are not told in a linear fashion.

“Eveline” in Dubliners takes us through the thoughts of a young woman about to leave home with her lover. The story is told in the third person, “she,” and follows a chronological order.  The story, however, follows Eveline’s stream-of-consciousness as she views her home environment (42-43), her work environment (43-44), and her anticipated future with Frank (44-46). Past and present come together for Eveline when looking about her home, “Perhaps she would never see again those familiar objects from which she had never dreamed of being divided” (43). In her new home, as a married women, “People would treat her with respect then” (44) shows that even when looking at those things she believed would always be with her, she was willing to sacrifice them. The most poignant moment comes when she is with Frank and “stood among the swaying crowd in the station at the North Wall” (47). Though she longs to journey with Frank, the external, which is what fills her mind at this point, prevents her from leaving, and though he called to her, “Her eyes gave him no sign of love or farewell or recognition” (48).

“The Boarding House” allows us into the minds of Mrs. Mooney and Mr. Doran, though neither are the character most affected. Polly is Mrs. Mooney’s daughter and enough “dalliance” had occurred with Mr. Doran that propriety dictated marriage as the only possible solution. On behalf of Mrs. Mooney, life had always boiled down to a “business arrangement,” as we read near the beginning, “She governed the house cunningly and firmly…when to be stern and when to let things pass” (75), so she felt quite comfortable as she debates what is to be done. She concludes “only one reparation could make up for the loss of her daughter’s honour: marriage” (79). The pages from 75 to 79 essentially recount Mrs. Mooney’s efficiency in running her boarding house, how she had dealt with one sort of man or another who had stayed under her roof. Mr. Doran’s stream-of-consciousness seems to dwell primarily on how to save his reputation and his comfortable job. During his recounting of events, we find that innocent little Polly had initiated their relationship, “she had tapped at his door, timidly. She wanted to relight her candle at his for hers had blown out by a gust” (81). We read on page 82 that they had kissed and she had prepared late night dinners for him. We do not know at the end what the discussion between Mrs. Mooney and Mr. Doran had been or exactly what the outcome was, but Mrs. Mooney does call for Polly, stating that Mr. Doran would like to speak to her. The last sentence pertains directly to Polly and allows us a glimmer into her mind, “Then she remembered what she had been waiting for” (84).

“The Dead” struck me the most emotionally. I will have to explore this a bit in my personal journal, but I identified with Gabriel Conroy and the way he views things. “Gabriel could not listen while Mary Jane was playing her Academy piece,” since he could not follow the melody (238). In that same scene, “four young men, who had come from the refreshment table” merely stood in the doorway for a few moments and left (238). While Mary Jane plays, his mind ventures over memories of his aunts and how they had first not liked Gretta, his wife, but by the end of the piece, he has moved beyond resentment. Gabriel stayed in the room throughout the entire piece while the four young men returned to applaud vigorously (240). A grand dinner occupies the tale between pages 251 and 255. Gabriel’s speech to his aunts merges the past, present and future. Upon hearing a guest play a piece, Gretta becomes quiet and sullen.

Joyce does not reveal until the end what the situation is with Gretta, but he does use it to paint a wonderfully beautiful picture of how Gabriel feels about his wife. After the evening party, waiting to enter their hotel, Gabriel “felt that they had escaped from their lives and duties, escaped from home and friends and run away together with wild and radiant hearts to a new adventure” (277). Gretta, once they are alone in their room, explains the death of a young man with whom she had been in love and that he had sung to her the same tune that was so recently sung at the party. Gabriel’s mind is blurry with what emotions he should feel after his wife divulges so much information. When Gretta falls asleep, Gabriel thinks, “So she had had that romance in her life; a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life” (285). Gabriel looks at his wife, studies her face and imagines what she must have looked like at the age when the boy died for his love of her. He looks at all the everyday trappings she now wears, the boots, petticoats, dress, which she had removed. He considers how close death truly is for anyone and after laying next to his sleeping wife, considers how “One by one, they were all becoming shades” (287). He imagines seeing the boy of his wife’s youth in the garden where she saw him standing in the rain. He hears the snow tapping the window, recollects how the newspaper had forecast snow for all of Ireland, covering everything and “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead” (288).

In Ulysses, James Joyce provides a brilliant example of stream-of-consciousness. We are directed to read the last section, called “Penelope.” In this portion, Molly Bloom is simply allowing her mind to wander. Joyce uses no punctuation, the only items that hint that the section may be broken into smaller portions are the five indentions. What I really enjoyed about this example is that there really is no “time” in which all these thoughts occur. Consider our own thoughts, how they may flit from one subject to another. I have often heard explained that our dreams actually last only a few seconds. But so much can fit into those “few seconds.”

The first indentation occurs when Molly is considering whether men would be “brutes enough to go and hang a woman” for killing her husband and “they’re all so different…” (744). So, is Molly saying that all men are different, or that all women are different? As readers, we have to decide. The second indentation occurs when Molly is thinking how rude a man was for “looking very hard” at her chest, but then continues to speaking about how firm her breasts became after being suckled (752-753). She reminisces about a sexual encounter, but he climax is metaphorically interrupted by the whistle of a train (754). So Joyce presents us with a moment within Molly’s mind and readers enjoy the rollercoaster ride; but this rollercoaster has no hand rails, guardrails or safety brakes in the form of punctuation, sentences or paragraphs.

AS AN ENDNOTE:  I stated that “The Dead” struck me the most emotionally. I will have to explore this a bit in my personal journal, but I identified with Gabriel Conroy and wish to briefly state why I feel this tie. I am the youngest of four boys by 13 years. My mother was the oldest child in her family and my father the youngest in his. Both of my parents are 86 years old and have outlived their siblings. There are a few cousins here and there, but none of them are my age. When I am fortunate enough to visit with my parents, correspond with my cousins or visit with my brothers, I always feel a sense of “nostalgia,” a longing for times that have past. There is an A.E. Housman poem that I love that reflects a bit of this “longing for nostalgia”:

Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows:

What are those blue remembered hills,

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again. (A Shropshire Lad XL)

I feel, in a way, this is similar to what Gabriel feels at the end of “The Dead.”



Works Cited

Houseman, A.E. A Shropshire Lad. “XL.” Project Gutenberg, 4 Feb 2013. Web. 29 Sep 2015.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Random House, 1954. Print.

—. Ulysses. New York, Random House, 1992. Print.

Kern, Stephen. The Modernist Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Prin


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