What is the advantage using ‘stream of consciousness’ technique in Virginia Woolf’s ‘To The Lighthouse?

To discover and record life as the people feel who live it, a new technique is more suitable to Mrs. Woolf and it is for this reason that in To The Lighthouse. She has not told a story in the sense of a series of events and has concentrated on a small number of characters. Whose nature and feelings are represented to us largely through their interior monologue? In order to capture the inner reality, the truth about life, she tried to represent the moving current of life and the individuals consciousness of the fleeting moments and secondly, also to select  from this current and organize it so that novel may penetrate between the surface reality and may give to the readers a sense of understanding and completeness.  In other words she has used ‘stream of consciousness’ technique but she has not used it consistently throughout. The interior monologues of the different characters are no doubt given, but the novelist the central intelligence, is also constantly busy organizing the material and illuminating it by frequent comments.

To The Lighthouse being by taking us into the middle of a scene: Mrs. Ramsay’s opening remark is the answer to an unstated question, which we have to supply by picking up clubs from what follows. The reader’s natural curiosity thus becomes involved. We wonder who these people are, what they are talking about and so on. As we read on prompted by this desire to know, we being to recognize a pattern in the narrative. At the same time as we assimilated names, facts, ideas. The pattern is one of brief statements indirect speech separated by longer descriptions of the characters relations and thoughts in indirect speech; we are barely conscious of the author. This unobtrusive quality and the novelist’s care to make everything seem natural artfully conceal the face that this opening is doing several things at once.

The novel as a whole is reflective rather than spontaneous, and the obvious selection by the author focuses our attention on the idea of the working of the mind, which is more interesting than a more naturalistic limitation of its confused process. First the reader is introduced to the characters and the world they occupy. Since are put before us through the thoughts of on the characters they come to us with associations of the characters’ personality and so we begin to be involved in the tensions between; we being with the opposition of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, brought to us through the reactions of the sensitive child and with reference to the lighthouse, then move to the antagonism around by Tansley, the quarrelsomeness of the children the impassive Carmichael; and so the grow to number and the texture of the books becomes complex as the novelist being to weave them together. 

Thus, too, the pattern beings to establish itself; the pattern that is of conversation and reaction, of the actual words in the first person and the present tense, and the reflections of the characters in the third person and the past tense. The opening conversation consists of only eight short remarks of a normal, even trivial kind, but from the beginning we are made aware that the surface of normal human relation ships conceals a mass of tangled feelings and associations and that these feelings can be strong and passionate, though they are concealed.

This violence of feelings is seen first in the child, James, and seems natural to the exaggeration of childhood, we are thus prepared in an acceptable way for the emotions of the adult characters, tempered by age and experience, but made more complex too.

It is by means of this combination of the conversation that is actually happening and the connected thoughts that may range over any event, that a time – scheme is also established in a sense of the present movement seen in relationship to the past which is continually woven in with the present in the minds of most people.

The third person narration is very common a device in novel. Virginia Woolf is however, very careful to make her direction of speech for the interior monologues of her characters which makes it easy for her to work into these mental soliloquies a number of statements and ideas which are outside the range  of knowledge of the characters she is dealing with. When, for example, at the beginning, she describes the feelings of James about his father, she moves from the child’s thinking to what Mr. Ramsay habitually did and said, through impersonal sentences.  The statements in the middle here clearly develop from what James is thinking, but we seem to move away from the child himself into a general comment, which in turn, merges into the description of Mr. Ramsay’s attitude towards life. Yet we hardly notice this shift because of the uniformity of style; the two currents of thought seem to flow together. Just as this third-person narration makes it possible for Virginia Woolf to move smoothly from one character to another so in the novel as a whole it is a unifying principle.
Mrs. Woolf has cleverly avoided the drawbacks of the stream of consciousness novel has given from and coherence to her material. She is not haphazard and incoherent like the other stream of consciousness novelist.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert, 
      2. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature
      3. Microsoft Students’ Encarta
       4. Wikipedia

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