How is time manipulated in William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the reasons that this story "A Rose for Emily" is considered to be a masterpiece is because of its fractured time line.  William Faulkner, one of America's literary giants, does not follow a chronological sequence in the story. 

The narrator of the story is a citizen of Jefferson, the main character's  home town. He begins the story after the funeral of the protagonist Miss Emily Grierson, who was buried two days after dying.  The events are told in a flashback but again not in timed order.

Faulkner manipulates time in this way.  He divides the story into five sections. Each section gives certain details of Emily's life. 

Section I:

When Emily is rather elderly, the new generation of councilmen come to her house to get her to pay her taxes.  She refuses.

Section II:

When she is a young woman, her  father dies. She refuses to admit that he has been dead for three days.

Her fiance deserts her.

Many years later, there is a revolting smell coming from her house. The neighbors complain and the town men place lime around Emily's house to kill the smell.

Section III:

After her fiance leaves her and her father dies, Emily takes to her bed and is not seen for over six months.

Homer Barron, a Yankee street contractor [remember this is the South], comes to town.

Homer takes Emily out for buggy rides on Sunday.

All of the town gossips about what is happening on those buggy rides.

Emily buys arsenic from the pharmacy.

Section IV:

Homer discloses that he is a homosexual.

The town women send the minister over to talk to Emily.

The neighbors send for Emily's cousins to talk some sense into her.

Miss Emily buys a man's toilet set in silver, with the letters H. B. on each piece and a complete outfit of men's clothing, including a nightshirt.

Homer Barron disappears.

When she was forty, Emily gave china painting lessons.

When Emily is seen again after Homer leaves, her hair has turned completely gray.

Emily dies in a chair downstairs at the age of 74.

Section V:

The townswomen come to Emily's house after the funeral to snoop around.

They open the door to the upstairs bedroom and discover a man's skeleton dressed in a nightshirt.

The room has not been disturbed for many years.

On the pillow is found a single gray hair.

Now, the important part is to put the events in the right order to see what the time sequence is in the story.  The macabre story challenges the reader to delve into the life of Miss Emily and figure out how the climax of the story was in the upstairs' bedroom.