Stream of Consciousness

Today, Joyce is celebrated as one of the great literary pioneers of the 20th century. He was one of the first writers to make extensive and convincing use of stream of consciousness, a stylistic form in which written prose seeks to represent the characters' stream of inner thoughts and perceptions rather than render these characters from an objective, external perspective. This technique is used extensively by Joyce in his novels Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939). It is not employed in his short story collection Dubliners (1914) but can be seen in portions of his autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)—mostly during the opening sections and in Chapter 5.

Without a question the stream-of-consciousness technique can make for difficult reading. With effort, however, the seemingly jumbled perceptions of stream of consciousness can crystallize into a coherent and sophisticated portrayal of a character’s experience.


Another stylistic technique for which Joyce is noted is the epiphany, a moment in which a character makes a sudden, profound realization—whether prompted by an external object or a voice from within—that creates a change in his or her perception of the world. Joyce uses epiphany most notably in Dubliners, but A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is briming with these sudden moments of spiritual revelation as well. Most notable is a scene in which Stephen sees a young girl wading at the beach, which strikes him with the sudden realization that an appreciation for beauty can be truly good. This moment is a classic example of Joyce’s belief that an epiphany can dramatically alter the human spirit in a matter of just a few seconds.