In “The Story of an Hour,” “A Rose for Emily,” and “Killings,” time is used in very different ways to organize events and convey meaning.
As the title suggests, “The Story of an Hour” focuses on one hour in Louse Mallard’s life. During that hour she learns of her husband’s apparent death in a railroad accident, experiences an “awakening” in which she discovers that she is free to live her life as she wishes, sees her husband return unharmed, and dies of what her doctors call “the joy that kills” (Chopin 16). Our experience of Louise Mallard’s tragedy is intensified by the quick and continuous flow of time from past to present and the brevity of her “victory.”
In contrast “A Rose for Emily” takes place over a long, indeterminate period of time reaching back into the 19th century and coming into the mid 1920s. The narrator makes numerous references to time but none help us pinpoint the time that events occur with complete certainty. Instead, the narrator meanders through the events of Emily’s life as if time is not important, beginning and ending the story with Emily’s funeral and flashing back and forth to events that drew the attention of the townspeople. In fact, time is not important in a culture forever grounded in the glories of its past. The narrator wants us to understand and sympathize with Emily within the context of the past and not the present moment when Homer’s skeleton is discovered in bed in an upstairs room with Emily’s iron gray hair on the adjacent pillow.
The present moment in “Killings” occurs toward the middle of the story. Dubus marks this moment in the story with the word now.
It seemed to Matt that from the time Mary Ann called weeping to tell him until now, a Saturday night in September, sitting in the car with Willis, parked beside Strout’s car, waiting for the bar to close, that he had not so much moved through his life as wandered through it, his spirit like a dazed body bumping into furniture and corners. (104).
At this point in the story it becomes clear the events that precede this moment are organized according to the way Matt remembers them as he waits to revenge the death of his son, Frank. Matt remembers Frank’s funeral and then his talk with Willis a month later. He thinks about Strout’s background and the night Frank came home from the hospital after being beaten by Strout. He thinks about Ruth’s concerns about Frank’s relationship with Mary Ann, and his own concerns that he does not share with his wife. But, as closing time at the bar approaches, Matt thinks about how Strout shot Frank in front of Mary Ann and the children, a last thought to bolster his courage or justify to himself what he is about to do. In “A Rose for Emily” we see time as the narrator sees it. Here we see time from Matt’s perspective: he is “wandering” through time, “his spirit like a dazed body bumping into furniture and corners” (Dubus 104). When Matt shots Richard, his sense of time becomes disembodied. He is not connected forever to the past like Miss Emily or pushed forward rapidly toward a tragic fate like Louise Mallard. Instead, he is cut off from time and everything that grounds him.
The gun kicked in Matt’s hand, and the explosion of the shot surrounded him, isolated him in a nimbus of sound that cut him off from all his time, his history…. (Dubus 110)
But, it is not until he returns home and Ruth says they cannot tell their other children about Strout that Matt realizes he is completely isolated by his act of revenge.