Faulkner tells the story using two different methods: a series of flashbacks in which the events are told with subjectivity and detail, and from an objective perspective in which the narrator fades into a plural pronoun "we" to demonstrate a linear causality of events. Had the story been told in a linear fashion, this understanding would, perhaps, have been lost, something Faulkner knew and incorporated into the story. By presenting the story in terms of present and past events, he could examine how they influence each other. In terms of mathematical precision, time moves on and what exists is only the present. In terms of the more subjective time, time moves on but memories can exist no matter how much time changes. Those memories stay unhindered.

It starts with the announcement of Emily's death, an event that has the entire town talking. This leads the reader to assume that she was an important figure in the town. As Fassler says in his article The Key, “Clearly, this lady who died unmarried was of importance to everyone. And yet the town itself is eventually divided”,[8] by upsetting the linear flow of the chronology of the narration, the short story focuses on the minute details that lead to different conclusions towards the end of the story. If Faulkner presented the story in a linear fashion, the chances of the reader sympathizing with Emily would be far less. By telling the story out of order, the reader sees Emily as a tragic product of her environment rather than a twisted necrophiliac.[9] The reader discovers the town was not dreading Emily's death. Some are sad but most relieved. Emily, after all, was just a "hereditary obligation" who was desperately trying to cling to old traditions and ways of life.

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