"A Rose for Emily" ends with the discovery of the forty-year-old corpse of Homer Barron. Yeah. It's nasty.
The first time we read this story, we assumed that—of course—the town didn't know about Homer Barron until Emily died. Otherwise, they wouldn't have let their kids go to Miss Emily's house for painting lessons. Right? And they would arrested her for murder—right?
Maybe right. And maybe wrong. Check out this passage:
Already we knew that there was one room in that region above stairs which no one had seen in forty years, and which would have to be forced. They waited until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened it. (5.3)
Wait a second: the town already knows there's a room that hasn't been opened in forty years? Since the time of Homer Barron's death? Did they know about Miss Emily's game of corpse dress-up this whole time?
Perhaps this is the real surprise of the ending: the realization that the town long ago pieced together the puzzle of Homer Barron's disappearance...and decided to play dumb.
This is where the theme "Compassion and Forgiveness" comes into the picture: if the townsfolk had arrested Miss Emily, she probably would have ended up being locked away. But the story makes us wonder: was the town's hiding of Miss Emily's crime an act of compassion, or yet another crime against her? Is it better to live in prison/a mental institution, or to live in a decaying house with a decaying corpse?