The Possibility of Evil, by Shirley Jackson
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: English Literature|
|✅ Wordcount: 2064 words||✅ Published: 11th Apr 2017|
“The Possibility of Evil” by Shirley Jackson
Shirley Jackson is known for her wicked short stories and novels. “A master of modern gothic fiction, Shirley Jackson wrote of the essentially evil nature of human beings” (“Shirley Jackson” 1).The short story “The Possibility of Evil” revolves around a character known as Miss Adela Strangeworth whose ancestral home is Pleasant Street which also happens to be the setup used to develop the story. However she is from the initial stages of the story portrayed as an old lady that is relatively calm and harmless especially with regards to the lives of her neighbors. She is a proud lady who believes in the fact that she owns her town perhaps a factor that is evidenced by the way she interacts with the members of her community. This however would subsequently change upon the realization of the fact that she is not the person people really think she is but instead she is a conniving woman with selfish and evil interests perhaps the premise on which the title of the story was constituted.
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Miss Strangeworth is one of the oldest people living in the town. She has an attachment to the little town and thinks it belongs to her because her grandfather helped build it. “She was seventy-one, Miss Strangeworth told the tourists, with a pretty little dimple showing by her lip, and she sometimes found herself thinking that the town belonged to her” (Penzeler, 479). “My grandfather built the first house on Pleasant Street,” (479). Miss Strangeworth was raised in the house her grandfather built and still lives there. “My family has lived here for better than a hundred years. My grandmother planted these roses, and my mother tended them, just as I do.” (479). Every one admired her roses but she did not let anyone pick them. She was very proud of her roses and just like Miss Strangeworth herself her roses never left the town. “The roses belonged on Pleasant Street, and it bothered Miss Strangeworth to think of people wanting to carry them away, to take them into strange towns and down strange streets….” (480).
The people in the town think highly of Miss Strangeworth and have the utmost respect for her. “When she came into the grocery, half a dozen people turned away from the shelves and counters to wave at her or call out good morning” (480). She would always greet and converset with her neighbors as she is walks through town. “Walking down Main Street on a summer morning, Miss Strangeworth had to stop every minute or so to say good morning to someone or to ask after someone’s health” (480). Miss Strangeworth has been someone who is admired by many of the people in her town because of what she presents to the people as her behavior.
Unfortunately Miss Strangeworth secretly does things against the people of her town who regard her highly. Considering that people have an impression of her being a good woman who is quiet and peaceful, it becomes completely unbecoming that she instead engages in very abnormal behavior. “She sees evil lurking around every corner and believes that she should prevent it before it occurs” (“Overview: “The Possibility of Evil”). She is a secretive woman owing to the fact that she has engaged in her bad behaviors for very many years yet no one has been able to successfully identify her as the sole proprietor of the practice. She is an opportunistic woman who takes opportunities of accumulating and using gossip to stir unrest to the people of her street without being noticed by anyone. “She sends anonymous letters to the inhabitants of the town, warning not of facts or real dangers” (Hrebik).
Miss Strangeworth wanted the town to stay orderly and if she thought someone was doing something evil that made her town look bad she would send them an anomous letter. “She writes them with a sense of urgency, as if she is protecting the purity of the town by doing so” (“Overview: “The Possibility of Evil”). In the story she is talking to a young lady named Helen Crane with a baby and Helen goes on to tell her that she thinks her baby is developing slowly. “I’ve been worrying, though, about her. Don’ you think she ought to move around more? Try to sit up, for instance?” (Penzler 481). Miss Strangeworth assures her there is nothing to worry about. “Nonsense. All babies are different. Some of them develop much more quickly than others” (481). That was the side of her that everyone knew and loved but when she got home she got her note pad out and wrote Helen an anomous letter. “After thinking for a minute, although she had been phrasing the letter in the back of her mind all the way home, she wrote on a pink sheet: DIDN’T YOU EVER SEE AN IDOIT CHILD BEFORE? SOME PEOPLE JUST SHOULDN’T HAVE CHILDREN, SHOULD THEY?” (483).
Miss Strangeworth wrote two to three evil letters daily to her neighbors. She wrote a letter to her neighbor Mrs. Harper that read: “HAVE YOU FOUND OUT YET WHAT THEY WERE ALL LAUGHING ABOUT AFTER YOU LEFT THE BRIDGE CLUB ON THURSDAY? OR IS THE WIFE REALLY THE LAST ONE TO KNOW?” (484). Then she went on to write her neighbor Mrs. Foster who was having surgery soon a letter that read: YOU NEVER KNOW ABOUT DOCTORS. REMEMBER THEY’RE ONLY HUMAN AND NEED MONEY LIKE THE REST OF US. SUPPOSE THE KNIFE SLIPPED ACCIDENTALLY. WOULD BURNS GET HIS FEE AND A LITTLE EXTRA FROM THAT NEPHEW OF YOURS?” (484). “The letter Mrs. Strangeworth sends her implies that the surgeon may kill her and make it look like an accident to earn extra money by sharing the spoils of her inheritance” (“Overview: “The Possibility of Evil”).
Miss Strangeworth loved writing her letters and she did not realize that she was causing more problems than solving them. She actually thought her letters were helping the people in her town. “Mr. Lewis would never have imagined for a minute that his grandson might be lifting petty cash from the store register if he had not had one of Miss Strangeworth’s letters ” (Penzler 484). “Miss Chandler, the librarian, and Linda Stewart’s parents would have gone unsuspectingly ahead with their lives, never aware of the possible evil lurking nearby, if Miss Strangeworth had not sent letters to open their eyes” (484). She did not have any evidence that the teenage couple Linda Stewart and Dave Harris were in an intimate relationship but that did not stop her from writing the letter saying they were. “Even though the things she writes are not factual, she believes it is better to put people on their guard than risk evil going unchecked” (“Overview: “The Possibility of Evil”). When she walked down the street and saw Linda Stewart running from her house crying and Miss Chandler not acting like herself it never crossed her mind that her letters was the reason for it all.
Some people might say she had too much time on her hands so she filled her day with the gossip of the town. The author of the story Shirley Jackson uses the ambiguous character as an avenue to pass across to the readers that with bad traits, we are bound to makes mistakes. Upon making the mistakes they will openly expose themselves and the people will be able to see them for who they really are. Miss Adela Strangeworth’s long held secret is only revealed because of her mistake of dropping one of her letters that are meant to be anonymous.
Miss Strangeworth was always careful when she wrote and delivered her letters. “Rather than using her personalized stationery, she pulls out a notebook of multicolored paper that is popular around town for writing notes and shopping lists, and rather than using her nice fountain pen she uses a stubby pencil” (“Overview: “The Possibility of Evil”). She even has a set time to take the letters to the post office so no one connects the letters to her. “Miss Strangeworth has arranged her days so as to take her evening walks when the post office is closed, so that no one will see her drop off her letters” (“Overview: “The Possibility of Evil”). One day when she was dropping the letters off at the post office she saw the teenage couple Dave Harris and Linda Stewart having a heartbreaking conversation most likely a result from one of her letters. She was so wrapped up in their conversation she dropped one of the letters without realizing. If it was not for that unfortunate incident of her unknowingly dropping one of her letters, no one would ever be able to retrace the incident back to her.
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Dave Harris seen that Miss Strangeworth had dropped one of her letters and he tried to tell her as she was walking away but she did not hear him. So he decided he would do Miss Strangeworth a favor deliver the letter to the person it was addressed to which was Don Crane. When he received the letter and read the evil message that was written they realized Miss Strangeworth was behind the terrible letters the whole time. The people of her town felt betrayed and were upset that Miss Strangeworth, the kind lady that everyone respected was actually full of evil. “She destroys the peace of mind of her fellow townspeople and undermines the sense of trust necessary to build a community; in effect, she causes the very dissolution of her town that she means to prevent” (Hrebik). The following morning Miss Strangeworth wakes up not knowing that the town knows about what she has done until she opened a letter that looked a lot like the ones she writes. “She began to cry silently for the wickedness of the world when she read the words: LOOK OUT AT WHAT USED TO BE YOUR ROSES” (Penzler 488).
Miss Strangeworth is a selfish woman who takes opportunities of accumulating and using gossip to stir unrest to the people of her town. She is a lot like her roses in the sense that they look perfect until you get closer to realize that the roses you were admiring from a far have many thorns underneath it. She was so wrapped up in stopping the evil in her town that she did not realize she was the one causing it and by doing this she became evil. “Unlike most of Jackson’s characters, Strangeworth does understand that all people harbor evil within themselves; what causes her downfall is her inability to understand that truth about herself” (Hrebik).
Hrebik, Dale. “Shirley Jackson.” American Short-Story Writers Since World War II: Third Series. Ed. Patrick Meanor and Richard E. Lee. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 234. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 12 May 2014. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|H1200009931&v=2.1&u=bluefld_main&it=r&p=LitRG&sw=w&asid=0150a8edb3fa2d212d01ba61a3592c23>.
“Overview: “The Possibility of Evil”” Short Stories for Students. Ed. Matthew Derda. Vol. 37. Detroit: Gale, 2013. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 12 May 2014. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|H1430007809&v=2.1&u=bluefld_main&it=r&p=LitRG&sw=w&asid=710a40f3ab367e08106d1ec554669400>.
Penzler, Otto, ed. “The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson.” The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century. Ed. Tony Hillerman. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. 479-88. Print.
“Shirley Jackson.” Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE|H1101680000&v=2.1&u=bluefld_main&it=r&p=LitRG&sw=w&asid=5c0e7f0fd45889868e26a62ef9265c3f>.
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