In A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner, the author uses the element of time to enhance details of the setting and vice versa. By avoiding the chronological order of events of Miss Emily’s life, Faulkner first gives the reader a finished puzzle, and then allows the reader to examine this puzzle piece by piece, step by step. By doing so, he enhances the plot and presents two different perspectives of time held by the characters. The first perspective (the world of the present) views time as a mechanical progression in which the past is a diminishing road.
The second perspective (the world of tradition and the past) views the past as a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottleneck of the most recent decade of years. The first perspective is that of Homer and the modern generation. The second is that of the older members of the Board of Aldermen and of the confederate soldiers. Emily holds the second view as well, except that for her there is no bottleneck dividing her from the meadow of the past.
Faulkner begins the story with Miss Emily’s funeral, where the men see her as a fallen monument and the women are anxious to see the inside of her house. He gives us a picture of a woman who is frail because she has fallen, yet as important and symbolic as a monument. The details of Miss Emily’s house closely relate to her and symbolize what she stands for. It is set on what had once been the most select street. The narrator (which is the town in this case) describes the house as stubborn and coquettish.
Cotton gins and garages have long obliterated the neighborhood, but it is the only house left. With a further look at Miss Emily’s life, we realize the importance of the setting in which the story takes place. The house in which she lives remains static and unchanged as the town progresses. Inside the walls of her abode, Miss Emily conquers time and progression. In the first section, Faulkner takes us back to the time when Miss Emily refused to pay her taxes. She believes that just because Colonel Sartoris remitted her taxes in 1894, that she is exempt from paying them even years later.
The town changes, its people change, yet Miss Emily has put a halt on time. In her mind, the Colonel is still alive even though he is not. When the deputation waits upon her, we get a glimpse of her decaying house. It smelled of dust and disuseIt was furnished in heavy, leather covered furniturethe leather was cracked. On a tarnished gilt easel before the fireplace stood a crayon portrait of Miss Emily’s father. The description of Miss Emily’s house is very haunting. There is no life or motion in this house.
Everything appears to be decaying, just as Miss Emily herself. The picture of her father is just another symbol of immobility and no sense of time. When he died, Miss Emily refused to acknowledge his death. She stopped time, at least in her mind. From this point, Faulkner makes a smooth transition to a period of thirty years ago, when Miss Emily vanquished their fathers about the smell. The plot continues in the backward direction, demonstrating Miss Emily’s lack of understanding of time.
A smell develops in Miss Emily’s house, which is another sign of decay and death. Miss Emily is oblivious to the smell, while it continues to bother the neighbors. This town’s people are intimidated by Miss Emily, and have to squeeze lime juice on her lawn in secrecy. They are afraid to confront her, just as the next generation is afraid to confront her about the taxes. Her strong presence is enough for her to surpass the law. The scrambling of time throughout the story is a great demonstration of the scrambling of time in Miss Emily’s mind and in her house.
As the town changes and progresses, grows and modernizes, Miss Emily’s stubborn and coquettish house remains the same. Perhaps if the story of Miss Emily had been set in a different place, her life would have turned out differently. With all the pressures from her father and the town’s people, she became a very closed up and rather frightening person. There were too many expectations of women in those days and Faulkner demonstrates the consequences of such a life through Miss Emily.
By setting the story in an upscale, post Civil War town, he uses both the details of the setting and time to show what happens to women such as Miss Emily, the tragic monument. Miss Emily’s world was always in the past. When she is threatened with desertion and disgrace, she not only takes refuge in that world but also takes Homer with her in the only manner possible death. As a final conclusion of Miss Emily’s life and the story, her position in regard to the specific problem of time is suggested in the scene where the old soldiers appear at her funeral.
The very old me-some in their brushed Confederate uniforms-on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as is she had been a contemporary of their, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression. These men have lost their sense of time as well as Miss Emily. They hallucinate and imagine things that never occurred; there is no sense of time in their minds. Faulkner presents a very horrifying picture in this story, and he does this by playing with the chronology, using symbol of time, and presenting a very twisted but detailed setting.