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The Line Between Good And Evil In The Short Story The Possibility Of Evil

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“The town where she lived had to be kept clean and sweet, but people everywhere were lustful and evil and degraded, and needed to be watched; the world was so large, and there was only one Strangeworth left in it” (Jackson 5). In the short story, The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson, Miss Adela Strangeworth appears to be an innocent and helpful old lady, but in reality there is much more to her than what meets the eye. Miss Strangeworth feels responsible for preventing the possibility of evil in her community, but she doesn’t realize that she is actually the one who is causing harm. While her intentions are good, her execution is not. Although Miss Strangeworth means well and only wants the best for her town, the anonymous letters that she writes, which are based on suspicions and not facts, are pretty questionable. Miss Strangeworth is not entirely evil nor entirely good, but it is no question that her letters do more harm than good to the recipients, and in a larger sense, the town as a whole.

At the beginning of the story, we are introduced to a happy, friendly elderly lady who seems to be loved by the entire town. This is supported by Jackson describing how, “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” (Jackson 2). We can see that Miss Strangeworth is popular and well-liked by the people in her community and we can assume that she is greeted by every person she sees. The fact that she takes the time out of her day to ask about people’s health shows that she actually cares about the people in her community. In addition to being well-liked, Miss Strangeworth is also admired for the roses in her garden which she loves. Miss Strangeworth seems to be very important to the town and the other inhabitants of the town seem to be used to her presence as well as her habits, except for one — her habit of criticizing the people in the town via anonymously written letters.

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“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. 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 that letter to open their eyes” (Jackson 4). This is a great example of how Miss Strangeworth feels like she’s really doing good. She thinks that she is protecting her town from evil but in reality, she’s the root of the evil in her town. This specific quote makes Miss Strangeworth seem like a hero more than a villain, but later on in the story, it is revealed what sorts of things that she writes about in her letters. She sees herself as a sort of saint who is fending off all of the evil and bad things that may attack her town, but in all honesty, she would have done more for her town by minding her own business and just letting people deal with their own issues.

It’s not really the fact that she writes the letters, but it’s how she writes them that makes her evil. One example is when “she wrote on a pink sheet: Didn’t you ever see an idiot child before? Some people just shouldn’t have children, should they?” (Jackson 4). It’s bad enough that the child she is referring to is only 6 months old, but she was also the one who assured Helen Crane, the child’s mother, that all children develop at different paces. This not only shows how cruel she can be because she is literally judging a baby, and by extension the baby’s young parents, it also shows how two-faced Miss Strangeworth is. One second she’s reassuring and comforting a young mother and the next she’s sitting at her desk writing horrible things about a child. Even just thinking these things is already evil in some way, but actually writing this down and sending it to the family to read shows how ruthless Miss Strangeworth can be. Nothing will stop her from doing what she believes is right.

We can’t label Miss Strangeworth as totally evil because although her actions have caused much harm to various people, she only did what she did because she believed that her town needed it. All she wanted was to save her town from evil. Of course this doesn’t justify her actions and in no way does this make her a good person, but there is a part of her that is good. By definition, Miss Strangeworth is a morally ambiguous character — neither entirely good nor evil. She is just an old lady who wants to protect her town, but doesn’t choose the best way to do so.

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The Line Between Good And Evil In The Short Story The Possibility Of Evil. (2022, February 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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