What is the passage of time in the story "A Rose for Emily"

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The passage of time is an important theme in Faulkner's famed short story "A Rose for Emily," and its highly confusing non-linear time sequence takes many leaps forward and backward. The exact dates in which the story takes place is not certain, but a few dates and time periods are mentioned.

We do know that Colonel Sartoris, mayor of Jefferson, remitted Emily's taxes in 1894. The family home is said to have resembled "the lightsome style of the seventies (1870s)," so we can assume that Miss Emily was born during or possibly before this time. A generation (20-30 years?) passed before the new mayor attempted to collect taxes from Emily, who is described as "small, fat... leaning on a cane."

The next chapter declares that Emily "vanquished them... just as she had vanquished their fathers thirty years before about the smell." At the time of Emily's death at age 74, it is mentioned that the room upstairs had not been "seen in forty years."

Lastly, we know that author William Faulkner first published the story in 1930 and he may have been kicking around the idea for several years before. So, during what years does the story take place? It is still a mystery, but backtracking 40 years from the publication date to the time of "the smell" would make it about 1890. Since Emily was probably in her 30s when she dated Homer, we can assume that Emily was born no later--and, certainly, possibly before--1856.

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A Rose for Emily

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