Stream of consciousness in As I Lay Dying vs/and Death of a Salesman
The essential thing that works as a means of interconnection between William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is the thread by the adoption of stream of consciousness technique as a means of presenting their content before the intended readers or audiences. Though Faulkner and Miller have implemented the same narrative technique as the key device to put their thought into work, their produced work necessarily defer a lot from each other’s on the basis of genre and form. Faulkner adopts the genre of fiction i.e. novel with its narrative in stream of consciousness technique whereas, Miller came up with a completely new and fresh idea of placing this in a drama. In using this stream of consciousness in visual medium, he had no predecessor.
According to Britannica Concise Encyclopedia, stream of consciousness is a ‘narrative technique in non dramatic fiction intended to render the flow of myriad impressions-visual, auditory, tactile, associative and subliminal-the impinge on an individual consciousness.’
Columbia University Press Encyclopedia defines it as a ‘literary technique that records the multifarious thoughts and feelings of a character without regard to logical argument or narrative sequence’. Therefore, in general, we can say that stream of consciousness is a narrative technique, in literature, which seeks to describe an individual’s point of view by giving the written equivalent of the character’s thought processes. The writer attempts to reflect all the forces, external and internal, influencing the psychology of a character at a single moment through this. To represent the mind at work, he may incorporate snatches of thought and grammatical constructions that do not seem coherent because they are based on the free association of ideas and images. One idea or image is often followed by seemingly irrelevant and inconsistent ideas or images which can make the reader often confused.
The term is a coinage by American psychologist William James in his The Principles of Psychology published in 1890 which was later applied to literature as a narrative technique in fictions. Edouard Dujardin, a French writer, was the first one to employ this technique in his novel Les lauriers sont coupés. Subsequently, it was adopted by such notable writers as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner. While Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is a continuation and development of stream of consciousness along with his other masterpiece Sound and Fury, Miller’s Death of a Salesman is rather an exceptional enterprise to employ the technique in drama for the first time.
Similarities between As I Lay Dying and Death of a Salesman work at different levels where both the work share the narrative technique as the medium of expression leading to some other dissimilarities as well. There are often abrupt shift of thoughts at different places in both the works. One idea is suddenly followed by another seemingly incoherent which often makes it difficult to follow. In As I Lay Dying, it happens to many characters named Darl, Dewey Dell, Tull, Cash or Vardaman. Vardaman’s narrative often shifts between present village and an urban setting where he once saw a toy train. However, in Death of a Salesman Willy’s thoughts suddenly turns to his mistress in Boston when he sees Linda mending socks.
The narrative of both As I Lay Dying and Death of Salesman mingles time, present and past or even illusions at the same moment. The linear system of thought of time is completely broken and events and thoughts very often switch. Darl’s thought of Dewey Dell and Dewey Dell’s own thought proves it further. In the restaurant scene of Death of a Salesman, the event of the hotel room at Boston where Biff saw Willy with a prostitute is mingled with present which is followed by other incidents as well.
In As I Lay Dying Faulkner has no opportunity to speak for him to produce any authenticity by making any third personal comment. Rather comments of all the characters are often conflicting to each other. There is no chance to verify their words’ authenticity. Similarly, Willy’s claim of being well-liked everywhere, cutting out a fabulous amount of money as his commission in past and Biff’s being a salesman in Bill Oliver’s company-all these lack authenticity in some way or the other.
Along with the above mentioned similarities, the works differ from each other regarding many discernible aspects. These may include their form, characters’ involvement in stream of consciousness along with the medium of expression, plot progression system, factors for deciphering the story, and involvement of readers among others.
The genres of the two works decide and determine the nature and form of stream of consciousness in two different ways. As a non dramatic fiction technique, Faulkner got his examples to excel in using this particular technique in his novel. But Miller took it a bit further. He shouldered the challenge to employ this technique in drama which was unprecedented.
If not all, most of the characters’ thoughts are presented through stream of consciousness in the novel. Darl is the main narrator whom Faulkner provides 19 sections out 59 to be narrated. But others as Dewey Dell, Verdaman, Tull, Anse, Jewel and Addie also proceed on their own ways. On the other hand, Willy is the only person who is involved in the stream of consciousness process in Death of a Salesman. Throughout the play he remains constant and others shift from here to there and take different mode and outlook for the performances of his thought.
The medium of expression in the two works vary significantly. In As I Lay Dying, the medium is of written form or script represents the free-flowing thought process of the characters, sometimes without or irregular use of punctuation. The insufficiency of words for a certain expression is revealed through gaps. Contrary to this, in Death of a Salesman, the medium is visual performance. The major innovation of the play was the fluid continuity between its segments where the flashback do not occur separately from the action but rather as an integral part of it. The retrospective scenes which are mingled with present are put into action through the characters’ performances.
Plot progression in As I Lay Dying takes place through the subsequent narrator’s resumption of the previous narrator’s narration. Most of the times, a narrator starts from a point where the previous narrator left out. Being a play, there is no such way in Death of a Salesman. Here, Willy’s mind makes the progression of the plot where many events of near and far along with some illusions come into thought and are put into action. Thus the actions in the play are ordered as the thoughts occur in Willy’s brain.
The factors that are involved for the purpose of deciphering the message through stream of consciousness also differ. The use of mechanics is probably one of the most significant one in As I Lay Dying where the punctuations are often left out to mean that words lack power to convey the ‘real’ message, they are insufficient sometimes. The paragraphs in italic may suggest shift of view point or time or thought, or even motif. Sometimes, there are overuses of mechanics to show the fragmented state of the characters’ thought. In Death of a Salesman, there are some deciphering devices, but this largely depends on the performers’ skill to make difference between scenes and sections through their performances. The same actors play the roles of present and past; mature and young. However, it is a suggestion that Linda of past appears always with a basket. The characters seem to maintain their movement in a logical way so that they do not cross any wall of the house, though we hardly find any walls.
Readers tend to be very much alert and active while reading a stream of consciousness novel as it demands much attention to cope with the narrative to get the meaning. Readers’ mind is always active in both the works. On the contrary, audiences have a chance to remain relatively passive and relaxed at the same time. The performers’ and director’s skill can make it easier for the audience to understand the events using lesser effort as well.
To conclude, we can say that both the works are the embodiments of successful implementation of the technique. Faulkner seems even more mature than Joyce to present it while Millers endeavor has been a fresh try to associate a fiction narrative with a visual medium. And Miller’s success in this regard was extraordinary which is proved through the audience’s tremendous sympathy for the ‘common man’ Willy Loman’s failure.