The Role of Chronology in Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and Faulkner's A Rose for Emily

The Role of Chronology in Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and Faulkner's A Rose for Emily

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The Role of Chronology in Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper and Faulkner's A Rose for Emily


Chronology is the sequence of time as it occurs in events. The chronology of a story is important in order for the reader to understand the work of literature. Many stories, such as "The Yellow Wallpaper" written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, have chronological events that happen in sequence, in order of the time they happened. Other stories, such as "A Rose for Emily" written by William Faulkner, have complicated chronologies. Faulkner uses "a complicatedly disjunctive time scheme that twists chronology almost beyond recognition" (Qtd. in Moore). His story begins with an event happening in the present, regresses to an earlier event, and finally returns to the initial event. This sometimes confuses the reader. Although "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "A Rose for Emily" have different chronologies, each story's chronology affects how the reader is able to understand the work as well as the order in which the events happened.

Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" has a basic and simple chronology that tells a story in an ordered time line. The protagonist Jane, also the narrator, tells the story in present tense, just as it is happening to her. The story is an "account of a woman's gradual decent into madness" (Bak 1). It starts with the narrator telling the reader "it is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer" (Gilman 13). Jane and her husband rent the summerhouse in order for Jane to rest and recover from a slight depression. Jane is isolated in an upstairs nursery in a colonial mansion three miles away from the village (Bak 1). As the story progresses, the reader is able to see what Jane goes through while isolated in the house. The next instance of time that Jane mentions in the story is the passing of the Forth of July (Gilman 17). As time progresses to the end of summer, the reader is able to see how time in the house has caused Jane's condition to deteriorate. The story ends in a mystery, but the reader is allowed to see how the story unraveled in an ordered chronological time, which makes the story less confusing.

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The chronological timed events also allows the reader to experience what Jane endured, making "The Yellow Wallpaper" easier to read and easier to be understood.

Unlike Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper", Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" has a different chronological order in which his story is told. The chronology in "A Rose for Emily" goes from present to past, to future, to past, and then back to present. This is not an orderly timed fashion. "Faulkner destroys chronological time in his story" (Qtd. in Moore 128). The story starts out at the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson and the aftermath of her death (Faulkner 15). After the scene of the funeral, the narrator, a local townsperson, takes the reader into the past to illustrate Emily's stubborn resolve to combat the corrosions of time (Birk 2). The first glimpse the narrator gives the reader of Miss Emily in the story comes when she is at the age of sixty (Byrne 2). When Miss Emily first appears, she is carrying a gold ticking watch on a gold chain that is in her pocket (Schwab 1). The watch illustrates Miss Emily's attempts to control the passage of years and the consequences of her effort to control it (1). "Time for Miss Emily does not move forward: it merely drones on in repetition, like the absurdly loud tick, tick, tick, of her invisible watch" (1). In order for Miss Emily to hold on to the things that really matter to her, she must prevent time from passing (1).

After the first glimpse of Miss Emily, the narrator flashes back to another time in Miss Emily's life. Miss Emily is about thirty years old, and it is two years after the death of her father. This time frame is just after Homer Barron, Miss Emily's suitor, deserts her (Byrne 2). The townspeople are complaining to the mayor about the smell coming from Miss Emily's house (Faulkner 17). After going through the events that happened two years after Miss Emily's father's death, the narrator advances the reader to the summer after the death of Miss Emily's father when she meets Homer (Byrne 3). After Homer's disappearance, the narrator proceeds to when Miss Emily is about forty years old. At this point in the story, Miss Emily begins to give china-painting lessons to some children until they grow up and don't come back (Faulkner 21). After that event, Miss Emily shut her door to the outside world for the last time.

The next time that the narrator mentions Miss Emily is when she dies at the age of seventy-four (21). The story ends where it began, at the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson (22). The story comes full circle in its initial time frame (Birk 2). Miss Emily's attempt to fix people and events in the past, and her attempt to control time mirrors the structure of the story (Schwab 2). The story's chronology affects how the reader interprets the events and their sequence in the story. The chronology also allows Miss Emily to be frozen in time, which makes some readers unable to realize the correct order in which the events happened in the story and how these situations affect the story's meaning.

The chronology of "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "A Rose for Emily" make each story different and unique. "The Yellow Wallpaper" has straight-forth chronology, allowing the reader to understand and experience the events as they happened in an orderly fashion. "A Rose for Emily" has confusing chronology requiring the reader to put the events together themselves and make sense of what happened at the end of the story. Because Miss Emily's life story is told in reverse order and specific dates are not used for events, it creates difficulty in establishing the chronology of her life (Moore 129). Each story tells of how two women descend into madness, one by post-partum depression over a series of timed events and the other by trying to control events that had happened in the past. Although the chronologies of the two stories differ, both stories are effective in portraying what the authors wants the reader to experience.

Works Cited

Bak, John S. Escaping the Jaundiced Eye: "Foucauldian Panopticism in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 'The Yellow Wallpaper.'"

Studies in Short Fiction. 1994 31(1): 1-6. <Galileo online>
Birk, John F. "Tryst Beyond Time: Faulkner's 'Emily' and Keats." Studies in Short Fiction. 1991 28(2): 1-7. <Galileo online>

Byrne, Mary Ellen. "Town and Time: Teaching Faulkner's 'A Rose for Emily.'" Center for Faulkner Southeast Missouri State University.

10 Oct. 2002 http://www2.semo.edu/cfs/rose.html

Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." The Harcourt Brace Casebook Series in Literature. Ed. Noel Polk. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 2000. 15-24.

Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. "The Yellow Wallpaper." The Harcourt Brace Casebook Series in Literature. Ed. Carol Kivo.Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 1998. 13-27.

Moore, Gene M. "Of Time and It's Mathematical Progression: Problems of Chronology in Faulkner's 'A Rose For Emily.'"The Harcourt Brace Casebook Series in Literature. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace, 2000. 127-134.

Schwab, Milinda. "A Watch for Emily." Studies in Short Fiction. 1991 28(2): 1-3. <Galileo online>
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