William Faulkner's "jumbled chronology" in his short story, "A Rose for Emily," is meant to keep the suspense high and the reader guessing as to the eventual outcome. He wrote it during a time that he was experimenting with various structures of time and the use of flashbacks and flash-forwards. Since the story itself dealt with Miss Emily's problems with the ever-changing world and society of the Deep South, these shifts in time were probably meant to represent a reflective thought process similar to an aging person reflecting upon the past. You may gain some additional insight from the links included below.
"A Rose for Emily" is told by a first person narrator speaking for the "collective" (the community, "we") in a series of flashbacks with heavy foreshadowing to future events. The story tells the principle points of the life of Emily, a town "monument," and begins with the town's response to her funeral: the men went out of "respectful affection" and the women went to "see the inside of her house." Using this opening, Faulkner marks his story as a eulogy to Emily, a metaphoric rose tossed--ironically as it turns out--on her coffin while he ties Emily's life to her house, which turns out to be important to the surprise ending of the story.
One reason Faulkner uses non-chronological time sequences for Emily's story is to establish her as a sympathetic character. The narrator has a horrendous tale to tell but uses an ironically reverential tone that is never displaced by a judgmental tone. The objective is to circumvent the judgmentalism and censure that would surely occur if the narrator got straight to the point and simply told the story of the discovery of what was in the bed in Emily's house--what two things were in the bed.
"A Rose for Emily" begins with the climax, Miss Emily's death, but it only reveals half of the climax. The other half of the climax involves who slept next to her, Homer, who had long since been dead. In this way, Faulkner frames the story using a Gothic theme of death in the climax at the beginning and then the theme of decay in the resolution at the end.
The jumbled chronology is structured like a ‘gossip story.’ Each section is designed for the reader to make a judgment of Emily. Here's how the chronology breaks down:
- People talk about how Emily hasn’t paid her taxes
- She has been sheltered her whole life by her dad
- Colonel Sartoris (mayor) knew he wouldn’t get taxes from her (Southern pride)
- He creates a story why she doesn’t pay
- She believes the story and buys into it
- A strange smell emits from Emily’s house
- Men have to sneak around her house to spread lime to cover smell
- Does she see them? Is she all “together?”
- The first appearance of Homer Barron
- Townspeople react-women gossiping
- Emily is seen buying arsenic
- Faulkner forces us to make a judgment at this point
- Should we feel sorry for her? Is she senile? Scandalous?
- Does she buy the arsenic before or after Homer’s visit?
- Emily’s cousins arrive to prepare her for marriage
- Emily buys men’s clothing and toiletries
- This is the last time anyone sees Homer
- Another judgment is forced upon the reader
- Emily dies
- Back to present time
- Emily is dead
- The townspeople open her bedroom door that has been shut for over 30 years
- Their discovery creates shudders of horror and disgust
- The final judgment/response from the reader is laid out