Summary and Analysis: "A Rose for Emily" Faulkner's Chronology


One way of explaining the excellence of "A Rose for Emily" is by considering its lack of chronological order. Such a dissection of the short story initially might appear to weaken it, but this approach allows us to see Faulkner's genius at work — particularly his own, unique way of telling a story. Unlike other writers of his era, such as John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, who usually narrate their stories in a strictly linear progression, Faulkner violates all chronological sequences.

Only a few specific dates are mentioned in the story, but a close reading makes it possible to assign certain sequential events. We know, for example, that Colonel Sartoris remits Miss Emily's taxes in 1894, and that he has been dead for at least ten years when she confronts the new aldermen. Likewise, we know that she dies at the age of 74. Using these facts, we can build a framework on which to hang the following chronology:

Section IV: Miss Emily is born.

Section II: She and her father ride around the town in an old, elegant carriage.

Section II: Her father dies, and for three days she refuses to acknowledge his death.

Section III: Homer Barron arrives in town and begins to court Miss Emily.

Section IV: She buys a man's silver toilet set — a mirror, brush, and comb — and men's clothing.

Section III: The town relegates her to disgrace and sends for her cousins.

Section IV: The cousins arrive, and Homer leaves town.

Section IV: Three days after the cousins leave, Homer returns.

Section III: Miss Emily buys poison at the local drug store.

Section IV: Homer disappears.

Section II: A horrible stench envelops Miss Emily's house.

Section II: Four town aldermen secretly sprinkle lime on her lawn.

Ironically, when we reconstruct the chronological arrangement in this linear fashion, we render Faulkner's masterpiece an injustice: Looking at the central events chronologically, Miss Emily buys poison, Homer Barron disappears suddenly, and a horrible stench surrounds the house — it is apparent why she buys the poison, and what causes the stench. The only surprise would be the shocking realization that Miss Emily has slept for many years in the same bed with her dead lover's rotting corpse. The horror of this knowledge makes the murder almost insignificant when compared to the necrophilia. However, the greatness of the story lies not in linearly recounting the events, but, instead, in the manner that Faulkner tells it; he leaves us horrified as we discover, bit by bit, why this so-called noble woman is now a "fallen monument."

In contrast to a traditional narrative approach, the story, as Faulkner presents it, begins with Miss Emily's funeral and ends shortly thereafter with the discovery of Homer's decayed corpse. Among other themes, it emphasizes the differences between the past, with its aristocracy — Colonel Sartoris' gallantry, the Griersons' aloofness and pride, and the board of old aldermen's respect for Miss Emily — and the modern generation's business-like mentality, embodied in the board of new aldermen and the many modern conveniences we hear about.