Definition of Chronology

Chronology refers to the orderly arrangement of occurrences or incidents, particularly in a historical context. Its roots can be traced back to the Greek words “Kronos” and “Logia,” signifying the study of time. Over time, the Greek term “Kronos” evolved into the Latin term “chronologia,” which eventually became “chronology” in English during the 16th century or thereafter. This term functions as a noun and can also be used in the plural form, such as “chronologies.” It pertains to the measurement of time, encompassing historical events or the timeline of specific occurrences or an event.

Within the realm of literature, chronology plays a crucial role in novels, where characters experience incidents in sequential order throughout their lives. It serves as an essential component of narrative storytelling, offering a comprehensive timeline of events that characters undergo. Moreover, it can be applied to various other domains, such as the chronology of a virus, the chronology of pottery, or the chronology of the United States.

Regarding the events depicted in a narrative, they can unfold in a linear fashion, commonly known as a straightway. Alternatively, they may occur in medias res, where a particular event from a character’s life is selected and subsequently explored, revealing the character’s past or present. Therefore, chronology holds significant importance in plot development. However, in the postmodern era, many writers have subverted this vital narrative element, intentionally disrupting the traditional order of events. However, in the postmodern world, most writers have turned this important element of the narrative topsy-turvy.

Examples from Literature

Example #1

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.

In this passage taken from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Old Man and the Sea, chronology is skillfully employed right from the opening line. Despite the seemingly straightforward introduction of the old man’s age, Hemingway subtly incorporates this narrative element throughout the novel, focusing on just a few days in the old man’s life. The initial mention of “the sun was down” immediately establishes the evening setting, indicating that the old man is preparing for sleep. Subsequently, the narrative unfolds, meticulously tracing the timeline of events from that evening onward. This apt use of chronology showcases Hemingway’s mastery in utilizing this literary technique to enhance the storytelling experience.

Example #2

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.

In this example, from George Orwell’s novel, there is an intriguing example of chronology. The narrative depicts a significant shift in Manor Farm’s operations as all activities come to a halt. The contextual clues subtly suggest an evening setting, as indicated by the awakening lantern light. Furthermore, the mention of the extinguished bedroom light and the reference to the previous night further reinforce the passage’s temporal progression. This portrayal emphasizes that chronology in a narrative does not always adhere to a strictly linear structure. Instead, it can be skillfully woven into the story using implicit cues from the surrounding natural elements, enhancing the overall flow and enjoyment for readers.

Example #3

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.

In this excerpt from A Tale of Two Cities, the above passage subtly indicates the concept of chronology. While it may not overtly emphasize the chronological order of events, thoughtful readers can discern the indications of time and season within the text. The references to “times,” “age,” “spring,” and “winter” provide subtle hints that can be interconnected with the characters and their experiences. The readers can piece the temporal aspects of the narrative, enriching their understanding and interpretation of the story by discerning these contextual cues.

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 example shows the multifaceted role of chronology not only in writing but also in narrations, events, and stories. The author explicitly states that although the books are labeled as first and second, their order does not correspond to the sequence of events portrayed in Aeneid. This acknowledgment highlights the subtle nature of chronology, showcasing how it can be manipulated and rearranged to suit the artistic vision or thematic structure of a literary work. By challenging the linear progression of events, the author prompts readers to engage with the narrative in a unique and thought-provoking manner, further emphasizing the significance of chronology as a tool for storytelling.

Function of Chronology

The function of chronology in literature is instrumental in providing readers with a comprehensive understanding of the unfolding events. The use of chronology enables readers to discern whether the events take place in the past, present, or future by establishing the temporal framework of a narrative. This context allows readers to engage with the story and its developments logically. Furthermore, chronology serves as a guidepost for comprehending the order in which events occur, offering a sense of structure and progression. The chronological sequence allows readers to follow the storyline more effectively, gaining insight into the causal relationships between events and appreciating the overall coherence of the narrative. Ultimately, the function of chronology is key to providing readers with a cohesive framework that promotes their immersion in the story and enhances their comprehension of the events as they unfold.