A Rose for Emily Questions and Answers
by William Faulkner

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Chronological Order of "A Rose for Emily" The events in the story "A Rose for Emily" are not in chronological order. Why did William Faulkner write the story out of order?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Key to understanding Faulkner's framing of the story with the old chivalric code of the ghostly Old South's past with Part I and Part V, is his creation of a gothic horror with the gruesome details of a past perverted by noblesse oblige and the lost moments of youth tainted with age and grotesquely reclaimed in the present. Indeed, Faulkner has arranged his narrative in the order of one of his statements:

Thus she passed from generation to generation--dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse.

 

 

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Although time is present in "A Rose for Emily," the story unfolds not in linear fashion--beginning, middle, and end--but in a series of episodes that can be approximately dated (see, for example,  Paul McGlynn's essay "The Chronology of 'A Rose for Emily'").   It's often useful to do a rough chronology of the story just to understand the number of decades that encompassed Miss Emily's life, but I would suggest that Faulkner chose his non-linear narrative technique in order to mirror Miss Emily's own perception of life, which does not seem to have included an understanding or acknowledgement of time's passing.

From the beginning of the story to its end, we are confronted with Miss Emily's resolute refusal to acknowledge time--she refuses to pay taxes and sends the town officials to a long-dead Colonel Sartoris for an explanation; she disappears from public view for years at a time, residing within a house that ages only in a physical sense; she sleeps with a man who has been dead for about thirty years in a room decorated for a marriage celebration.  

Miss Emily's life, from the time of young womanhood, has been spent "out of time"--in a vacuum created in her mind and completely unaffected by the passage of time in the world outside.   Faulkner recounted her life in episodes because that is how she experienced life, not as a sequence of events, but as a series of events that were separate from the life of the town and time as most of us perceive it.

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Putting the story's "ending" at the beginning is a method of creating tension and suspense in fiction. This method is often used in film as well. 

When the audience has a specific event, episode, or idea to anticipate, the story becomes naturally imbued with some amount of tension. The question of the story presents to the reader becomes a "how" question (How does the predicted outcome come to pass?), which is a twist on the more-or-less standard "what"...

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