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Joyces Use Of The Stream Of Consciousness English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1970 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the modernist era of English Literature many writers brought new writing techniques to the table. One as such was “stream of consciousness”. In this essay I aim to discuss this technique in relation to James Joyce’s Ulysses. This essay will explain the term itself and its effects on the reader as well as how it aids the reader of Ulysses.

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Stream of consciousness is a literary term which is used to describe a writing technique which was coined in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It has been used by modernist authors such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. It is a way that the author can get a particular character’s point of view across to the reader via their thoughts. This can be done in several ways such as by a loose monologue or as part of their actions. It is a way for important character traits to be portrayed from the inside. It helps the author make it seem to the readers like they are eavesdropping on what is going in the character’s mind and seeing their intimate thoughts. In a text to portray “stream of consciousness” the writing should be neither entirely verbal nor entirely textual. It shows the inner lives of these fictional characters, whether real or imaginary. As Robert Humphrey states it is used “to make the reader feel he is in direct contact with the life represented in the book” (15).

Ulysses is a novel written by James Joyce in 1918. It is one of the most known works of literature from the modernist era. The book is also known for its connections to Homer’s Odyssey. Some of the characters in Ulysses appear to have their own connections to Homer’s work, for example there are Leopold Bloom to Odysseus and Molly to Penelope.

Ulysses is deemed as one of Joyce’s greatest achievements and novels, yet it can barely be seen as a novel or proper form of writing. The entirety of the ‘story’ within Ulysses all takes place throughout one day, the sixteenth of June 1904. During the day mentioned the central characters of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom explore various events and goings-on in Dublin such as a newspaper office or public houses. Near the beginning of the book Stephen teaches in a school and then he gives a presentation in a National library, throughout the day the ‘story’ hops around Dublin and it is given mainly from both Bloom’s view and Stephen’s view, this is until at the end of the book Molly Bloom finally gets to talk for herself.

Throughout the novel the reader never actually gets to hear from Molly Bloom we only get to hear other peoples’ interpretations of her and of what she does or does not do. She is seen through the interactions she has with Stephen Dedalus and her husband Leopold Bloom. This writing technique that Joyce uses leaves it very hard for the reader to asses the character of Molly and to make up their minds as to whether they like her character or not. This means that in order to fully understand Molly Bloom the reader needs to re-evaluate what they already know of her from Leopold Bloom and put it with what they learn from the eighteenth chapter of the book, Penelope, Molly’s soliloquy. One could look at her and simply think of the vulgar parts of her we see in the novel and the physicality that we are shown in her monologue, or one could see her as a relatively out-going woman who has not been feeling loved fully for quite sometime and this also may make the reader re-evaluate Leopold Bloom as the partner that was unfaithful in his own ways and aided the thus aided the break-down of their marriage.

Molly’s character in the novel coincides with that of Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey. They do have differences which must be noted. Penelope is eternally faithful, whereas Molly Bloom is not; she has an affair with Hugh Boylan after years of celibacy in her marriage. In the book it appears that Molly has arranged her life around men and has very few male friends. She enjoys being womanly and being looked at with admiration, even if she doesn’t have a very high opinion of the man in question. However beneath al of that she does seem to have a great sense of the truth and this aligns her character with that of Stephen Dedalus. Both of these characters manage to set story-telling and mimicry into their passages and their sense of having roles. It is this which in turn will help Molly to mend in part her relationship with her husband Bloom while looking at the past in the final stages of Ulysses. In the novel James Joyce lets the reader get a proper look at the character of Molly and see her for who she really is by using the technique of “stream of consciousness” in the novel’s last chapter, Penelope, known as Molly’s soliloquy.

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Throughout the novel Molly Bloom’s character come across as contradictory and changed. She seems to come across very self-centred however she also comes across as being quite generous and considerate. The final chapter is compilation of the thoughts of Molly Bloom. Her ‘monologue’ contains feelings and information that make the reader look back on their previous idea of Molly and her marriage. Molly’s thoughts offer a new perspective to the reader. In the seventeenth chapter of the book Bloom gives a list in sorts of the infidelity of his wife Molly but then in Molly’s thoughts this list seems to be fictional and she was not seemingly unfaithful half as much as Leopold tried to make out. From Molly’s point of view it seems more like it has been Bloom who has been unfaithful to her more, and this calls his judgement of Molly into question. It is events like this where we see a contradiction in the book over Molly that the reader really gets something out of Joyce’s use of the “stream of consciousness” technique. Getting to look into the thoughts of Molly Bloom help us to define what kind of character she is and the lives of the people around her as we see them from another side rather than just their own. The chapter in itself is formed through eight massive sentences with only two punctuations marks throughout, those being placed at the end of the fourth sentence and the end of the eight and last sentence. The episode both starts and finished with the word ‘yes’ which Joyce has been know to affiliate with women characters and the ways and bodies of women. This is also noted by writers like Harry Blamires, in his book he says, “the sphere has its macrocosmic significance in terms of the female body” (233).

In the final episode of Joyce’s novel he uses “stream of consciousness” which is also seen in the third chapter of his book. It describes the thoughts of Molly, wife of business man Leopold Bloom, as she lies in bed beside him. Through the eight sentences of the chapter Molly Bloom reminisces about a wide range of things, from her past romances and her childhood, to the birth of her daughter and her career. In Molly’s second ‘sentence’ she thinks back on her admirers from the past and present. Her affair with Boylan is especially predominant in this sentence as she has the afternoon just spent and also an upcoming trip to Belfast. It also made her think of the difference between Boylan and Bloom. In an ordinary novel the reader does not always get such a clear cut view of what a particular character is thinking. The way that Joyce writes the novel and the level of though we get from seeing into Molly’s thoughts really make everything that much more extreme and definitive. We get to see what she thought of different situations and how she was, “I went into 1 of them it was biting cold I couldn’t keep it when was that 93 the canal was frozen yes it was a few months after” (655). These words in the third sentence of her soliloquy let us see the way she felt at this time. It is different as in a lot of novels you would not usually see how a character feels, you would see that they put on a coat maybe and this would indicate that they were cold but by the stream of consciousness technique that Joyce uses we get to see more than that. In other sentences like her fourth and fifth ones, the reader gets to see into the past of Molly Bloom. As we can see into thoughts and she thinks back on memories of childhood and love letters it is easier for us to get a good picture of Molly and to understand her better as a person rather than as Leopold Bloom’s cheating wife. We get to see excitement in her character; “an admirer he signed it I near jumped out of my skin I wanted to pick him up at the drill” (660). The stream of consciousness technique that Joyce uses lets us in so that we don’t just see what molly does we see what she thinks and what she was like before she got married. Her life in Gibraltar in the fourth sentence leads swiftly to her daughter and her relationship with her. From the way that Molly describes this in the latter half of the fourth sentence we get the impression that Milly is closer to her father than her mother. Gibraltar itself is mentioned more than once, it also is used in letting us into the past of her love life and the men whom she kissed in Gibraltar. This lets her mind wonder onto these men and how they are getting on at the moment, it also lets her think about what she would have been doing had she not married Leopold Bloom when she did, she wonders could she of been a star. In the seventh sentence Molly lets us into her thoughts about Stephen Dedalus, his son and how she wants him to think of her, she plans to read and make herself look ‘better’ in the eyes of this man who she has met very little. She finds him smarter, in Blamires’ book he notes, “He offers intelligence combined with sensitivity, glamour and youth” (246). She does indeed seem to think of Stephen as more than just a friend and this leads her to the last sentence of the chapter. She wonders about Bloom and how he doesn’t touch her, how their marriage is not very intimate and has not been for some time. She remembers her daughter who died at a very young age and this gets her state into a slightly depressing one. She thinks of what would happen if she were to wake Bloom up the next morning and tell him of the affair, she does not know if it would change their relationship for the better or for worse.

The use of “stream of consciousness” by James Joyce in Ulysses shows the influence that memory has in providing the reader with new information. Throughout the Penelope episode, the reader is shown a lot of memories, and this is due to this technique. It is definitely convincing and effective, in that it aids the reader in understanding Molly and how she became who she is at the moment. Stream of Consciousness as a literary technique has not been used by an awful lot of authors, even in the modernist era when it was first noticed. James Joyce successfully portrays this technique and the attributes that come with it. Ones’ opinion of Molly most certainly may have changed in the reading of that last chapter as we get to see into her thoughts, the book itself, the other seventeen chapters, give us an opinion of Molly. It gave the reader a preconceived notion of her character and this was fixed and replaced by and actual idea of Molly from the stream of consciousness technique in the last chapter. This essay has looked at “stream of consciousness” as a technique by itself, it has examined the character of Molly and it has combined the two in an analysis of the final chapter of Ulysses.


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