William Faulkner's use of a non-linear time frame, with constant flashbacks and foreshadowing, is one of the most distinctive aspects of "A Rose for Emily." Opening the story with the death of Miss Emily and then concluding it with her funeral (and the bizarre aftermath), Faulkner fills in the gaps of Emily's life in a series of non-sequential flashbacks, explaining her actions and events that led to the macabre discovery in the final paragraphs. In doing so, Faulkner's narrative, apparently through the eyes of a detached member of the community, creates an apprehensive mood that adds to the mystery of the story. The opening paragraph, describing the funeral (but not the townspeople's inspection of the inside of her house), suggests that there is more to the story than just her death. It immediately builds suspense, an element that would be absent if the story had been told in chronological fashion. The narrative, with its leaps forward and backward in time, creates the impression of a story being told long after the event, much in the way an aging storyteller might hesitatingly recall the facts many years in the future.
Faulkner's deliberate shifts in time may also be a way of emphasizing Miss Emily's own refusal to change with the times. Miss Emily was a relic of the past, living in a decrepit old house, witnessing the changing world of Jefferson--and the disappearing ways of the Old South--around her. Her one attempt at change was rebuffed when Homer refused to marry her, and she retreated to her old ways--scorning visitors and neighbors and watching the world around her from the limited view of her window.