Stream of First Person Consciousness - A Look at Three of William Faulkner's Works

The Visualization of the Network

faulkner network

The Background Work (highlighting and categorizing first and third person word usage within excerpts of the chosen works)

Linked here!

The Data (Google/Excel Sheet)

Linked here!

The Reflection

When I went about formulating my research question I originally wanted to stick with Option B and form a network based on films and actors from the film franchise Star Wars. However after soon realizing the immensity of the process due to the over 300 cast members that ranged from varying roles throughout the sagas, I chose to opt for a question that I could draw my own conclusions from rather than strictly looking at what actors appeared in the nine films in their entirety. From this I began thinking broadly about what relationships within literature I wanted to explore and how I could visually create those comparisons using Option A for this assignment. Thinking of writing styles and word usage, I ended up landing on a few interesting articles about the psychology behind stream of consciousness writing style. Peaking at a few high school favorites such as Virginia Woolf, I decided to go with William Faulker’s work The Sound and The Fury because of how I could easily compare it with his other narratives Absalom, Absalom!, and As I Lay Dying. My research question in a broad sense became how could I accurately depict the usage of first and third person words within the first 500 words of each of the previously named Faulkner novels. I hypothesized that the stream of consciousness style would contain more first person words in comparison to other writing styles utilized by Faulkner. Here I made the impactful decision to stick to one author and trace the connectedness and comparisons from Faulkner’s three works, rather than from three different authors. This decision was ultimately the correct one because of how it allowed for an increase of internal validity from any conclusions I may draw from my finalized network. After using Cytoscape to visualize a network from my edge list, I could soon see exactly how prominent language in the first person was in his novel The Sound and the Fury in comparison to his two other works I chose.

I do not think that specific nodes or edges of my network are necessarily the most prominent or the most interesting to analyze because my edge list consisted of a column of words in both the first and third person (I, me, my, mine, our, ours, us, we, he, him, his, she, her, they, them, their) while the second column consisted of naming which of the three selected Faulkner works that word appeared in. I think it is necessary to mention that even though I used OpenRefine to clean my data into a readable and efficient csv file, inconsistencies in the usage of terms like “they” in terms of personification of an object over discussion of an additional set of persons/characters is entirely possible. I also took the liberty of only using the introductory 500 words for each of Faulkner’s works, due to this in the case of the novel As I Lay Dying, I had to use a section from one person’s viewpoint and then pull a few phrases from the intro to another (so that each entity had exactly 500 words from me to pull from to see an appropriate ratio and number). I recognize that if I was able to complete this network again with a longer assignment I may have used the entirety of a chapter or the novels themselves to more accurately assess the connectedness between the language used. Both of these add to the limits that we discussed in class of Cytoscape, such as how some entities may not have a direct relationship to another but using strict data frames allows for no additional interpretation.

The narrative that my network expresses is easily viewed from the design I opted for. By looking at my network design I chose to move the three exterior nodes that were the titles of the three Faulkner works I used to the outside, allowing for two columns (third person on the left and first person on the right) to line up parallel to each other in the middle of the network design. By doing this, I hoped to showcase which of Faulkner’s work utilized either third or first person language the most frequently, as well as if that work used both. Reading off of my network, it is easy to see that edge volume is more dense stretching on the right side from The Sound and the Fury to the first person terms. This confirms my research question hypothesis that the stream of consciousness style would contain more usage of first person words than in other writing styles works utilized by Faulkner. Adversely, if you look to the left side of the network, it is obvious that the third person word choices have less dense edges connecting them to The Sound and the Fury, further justifying the fact that stream of consciousness style utilizes first person over third person (but not entirely in replacement of).

While the assignment asked to showcase a comparison between two entities, I added a third of Faulkner’s works to further validify the comparisons I hoped my network would draw. The addition of the novel As I Lay Dying proved to be interesting and even surprising both as I read through the excerpt to pick out the word choice as well as when I entered it into my edge sheet. The placement of this additional Faulkner novel in my network is no coincidence, I chose to add it on top of the network so that it can easily be removed or ignored by the viewer. However, As I Lay Dying ended up having almost equally dense edges going to both the first and third person word lists. This was surprising but still allowed further justification for the utilization of the first person within the stream of consciousness style. Even after two additional non stream of consciousness style works were viewed, The Sound and the Fury had the most connections to the right column of first person choice words. Overall, I was impressed with the outcome of my edge list and feel as if I was able to utilize the digital tool of cytoscape to my advantage to answer my research question during this Digital Tools Assignment.