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“The Possibility of Evil” summary and analysis

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The possibility of evil

Shirley Jackson’s “The Possibility of Evil” is a short story about a seemingly sweet little old woman, living in a small town with a house and prized bed of roses outside that has been in her family for three generations. The woman, Miss Strangeworth, is narrated as she goes through her normal Tuesday routine stopping to chat with the other locals. Upon doing so, she notices the solemn looks on some and speculates to herself about why the town has to consume itself with the possibility of evil summary. In an attempt to clean up the town, she writes several horrific letters to those who looked distraught, implying that maybe her letters are what upset the townspeople in the first place. After Miss Strangeworth dropped one of the letters at the post office one night, a local boy personally delivered it himself when he could not catch her before she left. The next morning, she received a letter looking similar to those she sends out. Opening the letter, she is shocked to read that she should look to see what used to be her roses. The central idea of this story is that evil could reside in any of us, even those you would least expect.

The central character in this short story is none other than Miss Strangeworth. Almost the entire story takes place around her and her life as Jackson writes in detail about the dainty old woman. She is the major character because without her, the story would have a void and be uninteresting. Miss Strangeworth is what ties everything together, making her encounters throughout the story relevant and come together. Miss Strangeworth gets a taste of her own medicine at the end when evil takes its toll on her unnecessary attempts “to keep her town alert to it” (343). She
was careless and made a mistake by dropping her letter at the new post office, causing the Harris boy to deliver it to her victim himself. Ultimately, she seems to be consistently static throughout the story, seeing evil in anyone but herself.

This brings us to the supporting character, which could be inferred to be Don Crane. As the reader, one can easily assume it was Don who destroyed her roses and wrote the letter in response to hers. The reason he could be the supporting character is how it seems he punished Miss Strangeworth for her hurtful words to the town by attacking something she greatly cherished and nurtured, just as she did towards his child. Though she felt she was doing the town a great service by ridding of the evil, she may have known she was fighting fire with fire. She would not even sign her name on “such trash” because of the lack of understanding from the recipients (344). Without Crane’s reaction, she would have never known of the true possibility of evil without interfering with it.

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