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The Possibility of Evil

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Darren Strydom

on 25 February 2014

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Transcript of The Possibility of Evil

The Possibility of Evil
Written by Shirley Jackson December 14, 1919- August 8, 1965
Plot Synopsis
Title's Significance
Figurative Language
Tone and Mood
Shirley Jackson was an influential American author from San Francisco. A popular writer in her time, her work has received increasing attention from literary critics in recent years. She has influenced such writers as Stephen King, Nigel Kneale, and Richard Matheson. She wrote novels such as "The Lottery", "The Haunting of Hill House", and the witty memoir "Life Among the Savages", about her domestic experiences. She would also never agree to any interviews or to explain or promote her work in any sort or fashion. She believed her books would speak for her clearly enough.
Ever since the small town was built, the beautiful Strangeworth house, resided on Pleasant Street. Now, it was home to old Miss Adela Strangeworth, who took much pride in her town and especially in her roses in her front lawn. She felt she must protect her town from evil. For without her family, the small, quaint town would not exist. And so almost every night, she would write anonymous letters to the people within her community whom she believed needed guidance. But her idea of guidance was insensitive and harsh. While at the post office to deliver her letters, Miss Strangeworth accidently dropped one of her helpful notes. Someone had seen her drop it. After picking up the letter, he decided that he would aid Miss Strangeworth by delivering the letter personally to the person it was addressed to. Miss Strangeworth found a familiar letter the following morning. "She began to cry silently when she read the words: LOOK OUT AT WHAT USED TO BE YOUR ROSES."
Main Characters

Adela Strangeworth:
Miss Strangeworth is 71 years old. She is a joyful person. She has a passion for gardening and loves warm summer days. She is very social and knows most of the people in town. She likes to gossip and jumping to conclusions about people. She sends judgmental letters to people in town who she feels are doing something wrong.
Dave Harris:
Dave Harris is a young man. He is in a relationship with Linda Stewart although they are having problems. He is polite. After Miss Strangeworth dropped one of her letters, he brought it himself to the address.
Mr. Lewis:
Mr. Lewis works at the grocery store. He does not talk a lot and seems upset. Miss Strangeworth thinks that he seems worried and tired. The reason for this is likely because of Miss Stramgeworth’s letters.
Helena and Don Crane:
Helena Crane is the mother of a six month old baby. She likes to spoil her baby. She is also worried that her baby is slow at developing. Since Dave Harris brought Miss Strangeworth’s letter to Don Crane himself, he knew that the mean, judgmental letters were written by Miss Strangeworth. Don Crane likes to get revenge because he ruined Miss Strangeworth’s roses that meant so much to her.
Key Themes
Major symbols
Setting Details
“The sun was shining, the air was fresh and clear after the nights heavy rain, and everything in Miss Strangeworth’s little town looked washed and bright.” pg 249

“… tourists who sometimes passed through the town and stopped to admire Miss Strangeworth’s roses.” pg 249

“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.” pg 250

“Carrying her little bag of groceries, Miss Strangeworth came out of the store into the bright sunlight and stopped to smile down on the Crane baby.” pg 251

“Many people seemed disturbed recently, Miss Strangeworth thought.” pg 251

“From halfway down the block Miss Strangeworth could catch the heavy accent of her roses, and she moved a little more quickly.” pg 252

“Miss Strangeworth went to the narrow desk in the corner, and unlocked it with her key.” pg 252

“Although Miss Strangeworth’s desk held a trimmed quill pen … and a gold-frost fountain pen, … Miss Strangeworth always used a dull stub of pencil when she wrote her letters, and she printed in a childish block print.” pg 252

“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.” pg 253

“Sitting in the warm sunlight that came through the tall windows of the dining room, seeing her roses massed outside, handling the heavy, old silverware and the fine, translucent china,…” pg 253

The audience is unsure about why many people in the town seem stressed out and distraught. The audience wants to figure out why Miss Strangeworth writes her letters and believes she is doing the right thing for her town when it seems to have negative effects on the people in the town. The audience also wants to find out what happens after Miss Strangeworth finds out what has happened to her flowers. The audience wants to know if she is forced to leave the town that she has never set foot out of before, if she will go to jail for a crime, or if she will stop writing her letters and let everyone in the town live in a blissful, peace. The intensity increases from the beginning of the story to the end. The intensity of the story increases from the beginning where the intensity is very low and all seems pleasant to where we figure out that Miss Strange writes dark letters that concerns the people she sends it to. It gets to the point where once a letter receiver has figured out who has been sending the letters and he goes and destroys Miss Strangeworth’s roses.
“They showed up together at the soda shop after school as usual both of them looking grim and bleak.”
Grim: stern and admitting of no appeasement or compromise: grim determination; grim necessity
Bleak: bare, desolate, and often windswept: a bleak plain

“After a nap she worked in her garden for a little while sparing herself because of the heat."
Sparing: lenient or merciful.

“a clean heart was a scoured heart”
Scoured: to remove (dirt grease etc) from something by hard rubbing with rough or abrasive material to scour pots and pans

“Miss Strangeworths desk held a trimmed quil pen”
Quil pen: a pen with bird feathers on it (Shakespeare pens)

“Miss Strangewoths usual stationery was heavy and cream colored”
Stationery: writing materials pens paper envelopes

"People everywhere were lustful and evil."
Lustful: full of or motivated by lust, greed, or the like.

:“Billy Moore, why he wasn’t out riding in his daddys shiney new car.”
pg 251 line 31

The irony of this story is that Strangeworth thinks she is helping people realize problems about themselves by sending them these letters but she is the one causing all the problems

: “Miss Strangeworth stopped at her own front gate as she always did, and looked up with deep pleasure at her house, with the red and pink and white roses along the narrow lawn”
pg 252 line 6

The Possibility of Evil is a reference to Miss Strangeworth. Most people from the town would not expect an innocent, nice old lady such as herself to be as evil as she actually is. Without reading the story, one would think that there would be a character who is dealing with the possibility of evil arising inside of them. One might also think that a situation might arise where there is a chance of evil.
The tone and mood of the story changes from the beginning to the end. At the beginning of the story the tone is a soft, gentle one that creates a feeling of warmth in the reader. The mood is a very happy and senile one. The impression at the beginning is that the town in the story is perfect and everyone there is happy and their lives are complete and fulfilling. As the story progresses the tone and mood start to change. A little ways into the story the readers find out that not everything is as perfect as they had thought. The mood starts to turn a little darker and the reader is filled with a little bit of anxiety and suspense as the story progresses. And at the very end the readers find out that the little town seems to be terrorized by someone writing letters that concern their personal lives and it worries them. Then when the Harrison boy and Linda go to give the letter Miss Strangeworth dropped the reader is very anxious to find out what happens next. And when Miss Strangeworth’s roses are destroyed the reader is a little sad because the roses are destroyed but filled with a sense that justice has been served.
The biggest symbol in “Possibility of Evil” is roses, they symbolize Miss Strangeworth. On the outside they seem pleasant but they hide thorns. The letters she sends to people ruin their lives, just as the letter she received ruined her "roses" . The roses relate the most to the theme of inherent evil because they symbolize Miss Strangeworth.
The lock on the desk she keeps her letters in symbolizes the secretiveness of her evil side. She conceals her writing by using a dull pencil and childish print as well as not signing them, and then takes them to the post office at dusk. This relates to the gossip theme because she uses her letters to spread gossip.

Everyone has an inherent evil within him or her. I choose these quotes to support the theme “Then she addressed a second envelope, green, to Mrs. Harper. Then an idea came to her and she selected a blue sheet and wrote: YOU NEVER KNOW ABOUT DOCTORS. REMEMBER THEY'RE ONLY HUMAN AND NEED MONEY LIKE THE REST OF US. SUPPOSE THE KNIFE SLIPPED ACCIDENTALLY. WOULD DR. BURNS GET HIS FEE AND A LITTLE EXTRA FROM THAT NEPHEW OF YOURS?” “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.”

Evil isn’t contained or planned its spontaneous. These three quotes from the story best support this theme “She never knew when she might feel like writing letters, so she kept her notepaper inside and the desk locked.” “She had been writing her letters—sometimes two or three every day for a week, sometimes no more than one in a month—for the past year.” “all at once, she was tired of writing letters.”

Gossip and rumors can affect people deeply. This quote shows that Miss Strangworth doesn’t truly believe the gossip she’s spreading, “Miss Strangeworth would have been genuinely shocked if there had been anything between Linda Stewart and the Harris boy” and the following dialog how the gossip is affecting Linda and Harris. "I can't tell you, Dave," Linda was saying—so she was talking to the Harris boy, as Miss Strangeworth had supposed—"I just can't. It's just nasty."
"But something's happened. You've been crying and crying, and your father is all upset. Why can't I know about it, too? Aren't I like one of the family?"
"Not anymore, Dave, not anymore. You're not to come near our house again; my father said so. He said he'd horsewhip you. That's all I can tell you: You're not to come near our house anymore." "But I didn't do anything."

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