Definition of Chronology

Chronology means the list in an order of the occurrences or incidents, mostly historical. Etymologically, chronology is made up of two Grecian words Kronos and Logia that means the study of time. Later, this Grecian term of Kronos changed into a Latin term chronologia which transformed into chronology in English in the 16th century or later. It is a noun and is also used as a plural such as chronologies. It happens with the counting of time such as historical events or the timeline of some events or an event.

In literature, it happens in the novel that a character goes through incidents during their life in chronological order. Therefore, it is an integral part of a narrative. It shows the full timeline of the events that characters go through. It could also be used for other such events such as the chronology of the virus, or chronology of pottery, or the chronology of the United States.

As far as events in a narrative are concerned, they could happen in a linear way that is also called a straightway. They could happen In Medias Res which means to pick an event from a character’s life and then unravel the past or the present of the character. Therefore, it is important in the development of a plot. However, in the postmodern world, most of the writers have turned this important element of the narrative topsy-turvy.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

From The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

When the boy came back the old man was asleep in the chair and the sun was down. The boy took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the back of the chair and over the old man’s shoulders. They were strange shoulders, still powerful although very old, and the neck was still strong too and the creases did not show so much when the old man was asleep and his head fallen forward.

This passage taken from the novel of Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, shows the use of chronology in the very first line. Although the direct start of the old man from this age seems that Hemingway has not paid much attention to this narrative element, the novel shows just a few days of the life of the old man. Therefore, “the sun was down” shows that it is the evening time and that the old man is going to sleep. The next passages show the timeline of the old man from this evening to onward. This is a good use of the existing chronology.

Example #2

From Animal Farm by George Orwell

Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes. With the ring of light from his lantern dancing from side to side, he lurched across the yard, kicked off his boots at the back door, drew himself a last glass of beer from the barrel in the scullery, and made his way up to bed, where Mrs. Jones was already snoring. As soon as the light in the bedroom went out there was a stirring and a fluttering all through the farm buildings. Word had gone round during the day that old Major, the prize Middle White boar, had had a strange dream on the previous night and wished to communicate it to the other animals.

This passage occurs in the novel, Animal Farm, by George Orwell. The Manor Farm is now going to stop all of its activities. It seems that it is the evening time as the light in the lantern seems to have woken up. The second hint is at the light that goes out in the bedroom and then the mention of the previous night. It shows that chronology does not need to happen in apple-pie order in a narrative. It could be an implicit use of the natural objects to let the readers enjoy the narrative’s smooth flow.

Example #3

From A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickins

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

This passage occurs in the popular novel of Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. Although it does not point to the chronology used in it, it gives hints about the time and season with the mention of “times”, “age”, “spring” and winter.” A good reader can immediately connect these dots and apply them to the characters.

Example #4

Preface to Aeneid by R. W. MacFarland

This narration occupies the second and the third nooks, which, therefore, in the order of time, are first and second, while which stands, first, is the third in the course of events. The others are in their natural order. But this arrangemnet of the first three books, has the advantage of making the hero relate the destruction of Troy.

This passage from a preface of the book shows not only the use of chronology in writing but also its use in narrations, events, and stories. The author is clear that though the books are first and second in order, they are not first and second in the order of the events given in Aeneid.

Function of Chronology

Chronology gives readers a sense of the events as they happen. A reader can understand the time whether it is past, present, or future, and understand the story and events as they unfold when he/she reads. He/she can also understand the order of the events.