25 pages 50 minutes read

Annie Proulx

55 Miles to the Gas Pump

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1999

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Literary Devices

Stream of Consciousness

The story’s first two paragraphs employ a stream-of-consciousness narrative style. Philosopher William James coined this term in 1893 in The Principles of Psychology to convey the idea of consciousness as a flowing stream or river. The concept has proved extremely appealing to writers invested in exploring human psychology. Dorothy Richardson, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf are among those who have famously employed stream of consciousness in their novels. Stream of consciousness enables writers to focus on the complexities of the human mind and its workings, employing features like sentence fragments, run-ons, and non sequiturs to evoke the way thoughts pass through the mind.

Stream-of-consciousness narration typically illuminates the inner world of a character, but in Proulx’s story, it is unclear to what extent the narrator’s perspective merges with either of the characters’. Nevertheless, the rapid flow of details and images creates a stream-of-consciousness-like effect that contrasts sharply with the pithy final sentence and therefore amplifies its shock value. After tripping over themselves to unload all the action and description of the first two paragraphs, the narrator draws a lesson notable for both its brevity and its amorality.