Posts Tagged ‘Stream Of Consciousness’

I have a quiz question for you. There is a famous story which goes like this. A black man is accused of committing a crime against a white person. A white lawyer represents him. We see the story unfold through the eyes of a young person who is related to the white lawyer. What is the name of this novel? Can you guess? Of course, you know the answer. It is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘ by Harper Lee, everyone’s favourite novel. You are right. But this is a question which has more than one correct answer. The second answer to this question is ‘Intruder in the Dust‘ by William Faulkner. That is the reason I read this book.

Lucas is a black farmer. He is an odd person, because he owns land in the middle of a farm owned by white people, refuses to kowtow to his white neighbours and always walks with a proud demeanor, and treats everyone, especially white neighbours as his equal. People resent him. They are always trying to do something to teach him a lesson. One day Lucas is arrested for shooting and killing a white man. Lucas asks a teenage boy called Chick to get his uncle, who is a lawyer. The uncle arrives with Chick. He tells Lucas that nothing much can be done because it is an open-and-shut case, because Lucas has been caught literally with a smoking gun in his hand. There is no way he can talk himself out of this. Lucas wants to say something, but doesn’t. Later, Chick feels that Lucas wants to tell him something and so he comes back alone. Lucas tells Chick that the bullet that killed the victim didn’t come from his gun. Chick embarks on a project to help Lucas. There is a time constraint though, because the relatives of the victim want to break open into the prison, get Lucas out, and lynch him. What is Chick’s plan? Does someone help him? Does his uncle believe in Lucas’ innocence? What happens next? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

I will get this out of the way first. Beyond the high level plot sketch, there is no similarity between ‘Intruder in the Dust’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. They are two different things. Now more on Faulkner’s book. This is my first Faulkner book. So I was very excited. But halfway through, I was frustrated. Why? Because of this. I didn’t know how to read Faulkner’s book. Should I read it like a fast-paced narrative fiction because the story was interesting? Or should I read it slowly, focusing on the prose and the beauty of the sentences, because it was literary fiction? I tried the first way and it didn’t work. I tried the second way, and that didn’t work too. It was frustrating. One of the reasons for this is that the story has long sentences, which run for a page, and sometimes they stretch into multiple pages. I am not a stranger to long sentences. I love them. In my experience, there are two kinds of long sentences. The first one takes a thought or an idea and builds on it. I love this kind of long sentence. It has a lot of depth and it is beautiful. For example, in Marcel Proust’sIn Search of Lost Time‘, the narrator describes his experience of getting up in the morning and how his senses and his mind awaken. It is beautiful. Another example is from Bohumil Hrabal’sCutting it Short‘. In this book on the first page, there is a description of what happens in the evening when the sun sets and the candles and lamps are lit. It is very poetic and beautiful. There is a second kind of long sentence. It stretches on to a page or more, and has lots of thoughts, ideas and images embedded in it. It is distracting, disrupts our mind from being focussed, and has a hundred unrelated things strewn all over the place. This long sentence – I hate. Maybe hate is a strong word. I find this strong sentence hard to read. It doesn’t build on a thought or an idea, it has too many things in one page, it is distracting, it doesn’t serve any purpose. Reading this sentence is like looking into our mind and noticing hundreds of unrelated thoughts flitting by at any moment. This kind of sentence forms the core of any ‘stream-of-consciousness’ writing. It is one of the reasons I haven’t been able to read Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs.Dalloway‘. I tried years back, and gave up. I haven’t bothered trying to read James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses‘. Because I know I would have the same experience. William Faulkner’s ‘Intruder in the Dust‘ is written in that ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style, with long sentences flitting all over the place. I felt that these long sentences were getting in the way of the story and were not giving me any reading pleasure. But I persisted with them and looked forward to the places where there was dialogue which moved the story and where there were passages which focussed on a topic. This was after all a book about crime and race and the American South and I was hoping to find many insightful passages. Those passages did arrive and they made me happy. But at some point it became too hard for me. I started speed reading the book, trying to reach those parts with dialogue and beautiful passages, feeling guilty all the time, because I almost never speed read, because I feel a book deserves to be treated with respect and affection and given the time it deserves. But I didn’t have a choice here, because it was too much for me. Finally a combination of perseverance and speed reading got me through to the last page. After finishing the last page, I wondered whether I would read a Faulkner book again. I went and checked another Faulkner book I have called ‘As I Lay Dying‘ to find out whether he has deployed the same style there. Fortunately not. That book has short sentences and the story is narrated by multiple characters, and the book looks almost contemporary. So, there is hope yet. I hope to read ‘As I Lay Dying‘ sometime soon. As far as ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style is concerned, I hope, someday, to dip into ‘Ulysses‘ and ‘Mrs.Dalloway‘ again. Hopefully I will respond to it better. I hope Virginia Woolf has written books which don’t use the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style. I admire her tremendously and it will be a shame if the only book of hers I can read is ‘A Room of One’s Own‘. Beyond dipping my toes though, I think I will stay away from ‘stream-of-consciousness’ works. It is not my thing.

So, what do I think about ‘Intruder in the Dust‘? I think it is an interesting book. I loved many of the characters, especially Lucas, Chick, Mrs.Habersham and Lucas’ uncle Gavin. There were also interesting, thought-provoking passages throughout the book. I think lovers of the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style will appreciate the book more. I am happy that I checked two boxes with this one book – I read my first complete ‘stream-of-consciousness’ novel and I read my first William Faulkner book. I wish the reading experience had been better. I discovered that there is a film adaptation of the book. I think I will like that, because it will dispense with the style and focus on the plot. I would love to watch it sometime.

I will leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“…his uncle had said that all man had was time, all that stood between him and the death he feared and abhorred was time yet he spent half of it inventing ways of getting the other half past…”

“…outside the quiet lamplit room the vast millrace of time roared not toward midnight but dragging midnight with it, not to hurl midnight into wreckage but to hurl the wreckage of midnight down upon them in one poised skyblotting yawn…”

“Just remember that they can stand anything, accept any fact…provided they don’t have to face it…”

Gavin : “He ain’t asleep. He’s cooking breakfast.”
Miss Habersham : “Cooking breakfast?”
Gavin : “He’s a country man. Any food he eats after daylight in the morning is dinner.”

“If you got something outside the common run that’s got to be done and can’t wait, don’t waste your time in the menfolks; they works on what your uncle calls the rules and the cases. Get the womens and the children at it; they works on the circumstances.”

“…because you escape nothing, you flee nothing; the pursuer is what is doing the running and tomorrow night is nothing but one long sleepless wrestle with yesterday’s omissions and regrets.”

“…there is a simple numerical point at which a mob cancels and abolishes itself, maybe because it has finally got too big for darkness, the cave it was spawned in is no longer big enough to conceal it from light and so at last whether it will or no it has to look at itself, or maybe because the amount of blood in one human body is no longer enough, as one peanut might titillate one elephant but not two or ten. Or maybe it’s because man having passed into mob passes then into mass which abolishes mob by absorption, metabolism, then having got too large even for mass becomes man again conceptible of pity and justice and conscience even if only in the recollection of his long painful aspiration toward them, toward that something anyway of one serene universal light.”

Have you read ‘Intruder in the Dust‘? What do you think about it? Do you like the ‘stream-of-consciousness’ style of writing?

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