Then at the door of the castle the rector had shaken hands with his father and mother, his soutane fluttering in the breeze, and the car had driven off with his father and mother on it. They had cried to him from the car, waving their hands:
—Goodbye, Stephen, goodbye!
—Goodbye, Stephen, goodbye!
He was caught in the whirl of a scrimmage and, fearful of the flashing eyes and muddy boots, bent down to look through the legs. The fellows were struggling and groaning and their legs were rubbing and kicking and stamping. Then Jack Lawton's yellow boots dodged out the ball and all the other boots and legs ran after. He ran after them a little way and then stopped. It was useless to run on. Soon they would be going home for the holidays. After supper in the study hall he would change the number pasted up inside his desk from seventy-seven to seventy-six. (James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man)
Several good examples of stream of consciousness occur at the very beginning of the novel; the excerpt above is one of these. Stream of consciousness is a type of the older technique of interior monologue, which is a character’s inner conversation with themself. The writing in stream of consciousness may exhibit a loose style with fragmentation of expression and without standard grammar, syntax, and punctuation. The identifying characteristics of stream of consciousness are fairly simple and easy to grasp:
- Stream of consciousness provides a representation of a single character’s consciousness.
- Consciousness may include thoughts or impressions or perceptions.
- Consciousness may respond to external stimuli or to internal stimuli.
- Consciousness may be represented by fragmented and/or disordered and random thoughts, perceptions, or impressions.
The excerpt above displays some of these characteristics. There is a randomness to the expressions. They begin with Stephen’s parents saying their farewells, then jump illogically to a scrimmage on a football field (i.e., soccer or rugby), where a run down the playing field turns into an even more illogical idiomatic and metaphoric run after the boys who will soon be going home from school for the holidays.
True to its origins in psychology under the hands of psychologist William James (elder brother to Henry James of literary fame), the stream of consciousness in the excerpt is somewhat logically connect through what is called free association, the change from one thought or train of thought to another due to a mutual or related association of thought. In the excerpt, the second jump from a random thought about a run to a second random thought about a metaphoric run has the logical connection of free association through the idea of running after in relation to the other boys at Stephen’s school:
the ball and all the other boots and legs ran after. He ran after them a little way and then stopped. It was useless to run on. Soon they would be going home for the holidays.
Here is a second example of a free association type stream of consciousness in which nice takes the narrator from focusing on nice expressions to focusing on nice mother:
That was not a nice expression. His mother had told him not to speak with the rough boys in the college. Nice mother! ... she had put up her veil … and her nose and eyes were red. … She was a nice mother but she was not so nice when she cried.