Even the casual reader of William Faulkner will recognize the element of time as a crucial one in much of the writer's work, and the critical attention given to the subject of time in Faulkner most certainly fills many pages of criticism. A goodly number of those pages of criticism deal with the well-known short story, "A Rose for Emily." Several scholars, most notably Paul McGlynn, have worked to untangle the confusing chronology of this work (461-62). Others have given a variety of symbolic and psychological reasons for Emily Grierson's inability (or refusal) to acknowledge the passage of time. Yet in all of this careful literary analysis, no one has discussed one troubling and therefore highly significant detail. When we first meet Miss Emily, she carries in a pocket somewhere within her clothing an "invisible watch ticking at the end of [a] gold chain" (Faulkner 121). What would a woman like Emily Grierson, who seems to us fixed in the past and oblivious to any passing of time, need with a watch? An awareness of the significance of this watch, however, is crucial for a clear understanding of Miss Emily herself. The watch's placement in her pocket, its unusually loud ticking, and the chain to which it is attached illustrate both her attempts to control the passage of the years and the consequences of such an ultimately futile effort.
The idiom of having something or someone "in one's pocket," that is, under one's personal control, is important here, for by wearing the watch in her pocket rather than, say, pinned to her bodice, Emily demonstrates her effort to subjugat e the clock to her own will. In staring down the aldermen who have come about the taxes, ...
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...for what is new to us, we soon learn, is not new to Miss Emily. Repeatedly, she has attempted to control time, to fix people and events in the past, and the stru cture of the story mirrors this. Also, since the story begins and ends, more or less, with Emily's funeral (the events of her life being presented to us in a series of flashbacks), very little actual time passes in the course of the narrativ e. By telling her story after her death, Faulkner shows that, in the only way possible, time now stands still for her. Thus this one small detail, the hidden yet constantly ticking watch, becomes a symbol for the horror and futility that are Emily Grierson.
Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Collected Stories. New York: Vintage, 1977. 119-30.
McGlynn, Paul. "The Chronology of `A Rose for Emily.'" Studies in Short Fiction, 6 (1969): 461-62.
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