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The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson

The short story we read is The Possibility of Evil. In this short story, the main character is Adela Strangeworth and she believes in a kind of justice of her own, but that will end up badly for her. This short story was published in 1965. It did not gain as much popularity as The Lottery, but it remains one of Jackson’s most famous short stories. The story is about Miss Strangeworth’s life. It relates to her daily routine and her everyday activities, like going around town. She is the matriarch of the town and she makes sure that everyone knows that. She knows pretty much everything about her town and she is proud to say that she has been living there her entire life, which means 70 years. She also makes sure to be polite and caring with the people that come to visit from other towns. Also, she gives a lot of importance to her wonderful roses and does not allow anyone to touch them, neither to have some even when they ask her.

The reason she is so nice to people, even if we can notice from the start that she is not that nice, because she never gives any roses, is not clearly explained at the beginning of the story when the reader believes that she is just an old nice lady. Hidden behind her nice manners is something wrong. In fact, the reason she is so concerned about everyone she meets is that she always finds what is “wrong” with them. Inside her, she feels like it is her responsibility to stop evil from spreading in her town, so every day, she writes anonymous letters to her neighbours to alert them about what is going on around. She mails the letters when it’s dark, so nobody notices her. Unfortunately, it’s the letters she sends that are the cause of the evil she is trying to stop. In other words, her letters provoke exactly what she is trying to stop. Miss Strangeworth does not realize the gravity of the effects of her letters.

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In some way, she knows she is being evil by acting like that because she doesn’t sign the letters and she makes sure nobody sees her when she sends them, which tells us she feels guilty somehow. However, she never really takes the time to think about all that, until she eventually is discovered to be the source of the letters. At that very moment, she cannot understand why someone would do something as “evil” as destroying her prize roses, which is the very ironic ending of the story. The elements included in the plot chart are easy to identify since it’s a linear type of short story. The introduction shows us Miss Strangeworth as a well-respected person in town, and she lives on Pleasant Street. It also tells us that Miss Starnegworth’s grandfather is the man who built the first house in town and that the lady has been living there her whole life. She never left town, not even for a day, and she nourishes her roses just like her mother and her grandmother did. The triggering force is when Miss Strangeworth goes shopping at Mr. Lewis’s grocery store and she sees Mrs. Harper coming in with a pale face.

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Miss Strangeworth then tells her to take care of herself. After that, when Miss Strangeworth is heading home, she sees Don and Helen Crane with their newborn baby and the couple seems to be stressing about how slow their baby is making progress to learn. The rising action is when Miss Strangeworth goes back to her house and starts writing warning letters to Mrs. Harper, Mrs. Foster and the Crane couple about gossips and their baby. The letters she writes are completely based on assumptions and she writes them anonymously. Then, we learn that she has been writing this kind of letter to different people for a long time for the purpose of keeping the town peaceful, or at least her idea of peace. She always goes to the post office at dusk where there are not too many people around. The climax of the story is when she goes to the post office to mail her letters of the day and while she puts her letters into the slot, one of them drops out of it.

The Harris boy, who was close, picks up the letter and calls out to Miss Strangeworth, which he saw mailing the letters, but the lady does not hear him. Finally, the conclusion of the story is when Miss Strangeworth finds the letter she had lost the day before, on the floor in her hallway. At that moment, she knows something is wrong and she unfolds the paper to read it. She begins to cry silently when she reads the following words: Lookout at what used to be your roses. Shirley Jackson used a few figures of speech in the short story we studied. Her subtle style of writing makes the reader want to read the story again to understand even more of the second-degree meanings. We experienced it because we understood more of the details when we read the story a second and a third time. Shirley Jackson uses a few metaphors, for example, by naming the main character Miss Strangeworth, which is an unusual name that fits well with the role she plays, and also, the fact that the town remains unnamed, but that the street is clearly named Pleasant Street.

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That also shows the irony in the writing style of the author. One of Shirley Jackson’s characteristics is probably the use of metaphors in her texts. She uses metaphors that have foreshadowing effects on the reader, and that is why we said earlier that you need to read the story a few times before noticing all the hidden messages. For instance, here is a selected extract of our story to support our ideas: [……..] The pencil that Miss Strangeworth uses represents that the letter she writes is not important enough for her to use her golden fountain pen. Miss Strangworth thinks that she is like her golden pen and everyone else is insignificant. Miss Strangeworth is a very interesting character because what she looks like is very different from what she really is. She has a secret life that ruins everyone else’s and keeps her alive. To others, she seems like a sweet innocent old lady but she proves that she’s nothing like that later in the story.

Miss Strangeworth shows that she really is an old heartless woman when she anonymously writes to some of the people of the town: DIDN’T YOU EVER SEEN AN IDIOT CHILD BEFORE? SOME PEOPLE JUST SHOULDN’T HAVE CHILDREN SHOULD THEY? She tries to wear an innocent mask, but she is a cruel person in reality. Her physical characteristics aren’t described in detail because it’s not an important part of the story. All we know is that she is a seventy-one years old woman living alone. As we said earlier, her name also demonstrates that her character is unordinary. Miss Strangeworth is different from everyone else because of the letters she writes. The Possibility of Evil, just like most short stories, has a moral hidden in it. Shirley Jackson incorporated diction, symbolism, and archetypes to illustrate what she wanted the readers to understand. Jackson used archetypes to support the theme of the story we are studying by making Miss Strangeworth use roses as the plant she takes care of every single day.

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Roses look fragile and beautiful but they hide their thorns. The old lady is just like the roses because she hides her thorns. Also, roses could stand for royalty and Miss Strangeworth thinks of herself as the princess of the town when she says twice in the story: A princess can see a lot of trouble sometimes. The moral of the story would then be to be very careful with what you see because what is on the outside sometimes disguises what is on the inside. We appreciated this short story a lot for a few different reasons. First of all, we remember studying short stories in High School and we had 5 criteria to rate a short story. It depended on how close it was to reality, on its length, on the number of details, on the punch and on the vagueness of it.

Considering those criteria, we concluded that Shirley Jackson’s short story is very good. It’s not too far from reality, because it’s not fiction and not exaggerated, and also, this story could happen to any of us, only, a bit differently according to our daily lives. Also, it’s not too long and the details are all important, nothing superfluous. The punch is great because you don’t expect what will happen at the end and the metaphors make the story a little vague, which makes it interesting to read because you can imagine a part of it. Overall, we really appreciated Shirley Jackson’s writing style and the whole short story we studied because we think she brings up life issues in a brilliant way, by making stories out of it.

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The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson. (2021, Jun 02). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from