Stream of Consciousness


In English Literature, Stream of Consciousness is a narrative device used by the novelist to make the reader know the thoughts and feelings of the characters present in the novel.

A number of people often wonder what is the other name for the stream of consciousness novel. As it focuses on the inner feeling of the characters, Stream of Consciousness is often known as internal monologue though both the terms have a slightly different meaning.

In Internal Monologue, the thoughts and feelings of the characters are often presented using logical progression from one idea to the other, whereas in Stream of Consciousness, the actual experience of thinking is presented in all its chaos and distress


The term “stream of consciousness” was first used by William James in 1890 in his The Principles of Psychology. He used this term to explain the free flow of thoughts.

According to him “it is nothing jointed; 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.”

This term was first used by the novelist May Sinclair in a literary context while discussing Dorothy Richardson’s novels. However, it was three novelists Dorthy Richardson, Virginia Woolf and James Joyce who used this concept in their works.


Following are the main characteristics of the stream of consciousness novel:

  1. The Stream of Consciousness is characterised by ample of thoughts and images. The technique lacks punctuation and associative leaps.
  2. This technique is different from Dramatic Monologue and Soliloquy as in the latter the speaker addresses another person or audience whereas, in the former, the thoughts remain the mind of the character.
  3. Dramatic Monologue and Soliloquy is associated with the poetry whereas Stream of Consciousness is associated with the novel.
  4. Today it has also been used in drama and movies.
  5. It emerged during the early twentieth-century modernist movement.