To The Lighthouse : The Importance of a Stream of Consciousness Narrative

To The Lighthouse : The Importance of a Stream of Consciousness Narrative

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Virginia Woolf was one of the first authors to utilize the stream of consciousness narrative during its emergence in the early twentieth century. This literary device attempts to capture the realistic thought processes of the human mind in order to create a more true-to-life fiction, compared to the traditional plot and narrative. In her 1927 novel, “To the Lighthouse”, Virginia Woolf uses the stream of consciousness narrative in order to create a more intimate and relatable experience between her readers and the characters in her book.
The stream of consciousness narrative emerged out of writers’ frustration with the “cookie-cutter” plot and narrative that had become so prevalent in modern society. Virginia Woolf’s illustrates this grievance in her essay, “Modern Fiction”:
Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek. Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide.” (Modern 2431).
With this in mind, Woolf and other writers began to emulate the raw, uncensored, and unorganized thought processes of an ordinary person in their writing. This new narrative style allowed writers to focus on character development and less on plot points. This is evident in the three parts of To the Lighthouse. The first and the third part do not appear to contain major plot points, but rather, they showcase the characters’ maturation and their dynamic relationships through the stream of consciousness narrative. The second part, Time Passes, is unique because it...

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...experience in which she feels one with the sea, “ And as she lost consciousness of outer things, … her mind kept throwing up from its depths, scenes, and names, and sayings, and memories, and ideas, like a fountain…” (Lighthouse 159). The experience that Lily is thinking about is perfectly mirroring one of the few experiences that we have as humans that is hard to put into words. One cannot express these feelings of wonder in a few simple words, or as a far off narrator. But when the reader is put inside the character’s head through the stream of consciousness narrative, the reader knows exactly the sensation the character is experiencing.

Works Cited

The Norton Anthology of English
Literature: The Major Authors. Ed. E. Donaldson, Hallet Smith, Robert Adams,
Samuel Monk, George Ford, David Daiches. New York: Norton & Company, 2006.
2411-2412. Print.

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