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"The Possibility of Evil" by Shirley Jackson

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Mikaela Meglio

on 17 October 2013

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Transcript of "The Possibility of Evil" by Shirley Jackson

"The Possibility of Evil" by Shirley Jackson
Paulina, Ryley, Mikaela

Formalistic Approach
Types of Conflict
Man vs Self
Ms. Strangeworth has to keep up with the upbringing tradition that was before her
She has OCD, and nominates herself as a matriarchy figure to keep the town in order
Man vs Society
She's against the town, believes everyone is evil and no one is as perfect as she is (God-like complex)
Tries to clense the town by writing and delivering anonymus letters, broadcasting everyone's flaws
Man vs Man
When Don Crane recieves his letter, and is aware who it's from, he retalitates and lashes out on Ms. Strangeworth's roses- a prized possesion that no one has dared to touch
Ms. Strangeworth writes a letter to the Harris family, informing them of their daughter's sexual tendencies
Ms. Harper gets cheated on and everyone in the town is aware of this except for her
Mr. Lewis' grandson has been stealing from his grocery store
Discussion Questions
Do you think people are born evil or is it learned through experiences?

If it is learned, can we as humans overcome the evil inside of us?

If not, what is the ultimate result?

The narrator introduces the protagonist, Ms. Strangeworh and her roses
Ms. Strangeworth starts off by entering a grocery store where she then interacts with her fellow townspeople
Inciting Force
Ms. Strangeworth starts to write her letters directed individually towards specific people in the town
Ms. Strangeworth decides to write and mail letters to the townspeople for her own benifit in order to cleanse the town from evil
Ms. Strangeworth mistakenly drops one of her letters addressed to Don Crane beside the post office box
Falling Action
Linda and Harris found the letter Ms. Strangeworth had dropped adressed to Don Crane and thought it was in their best interest to deliver it to Don Crane himself
Ms. Strangeworth recieves a letter herself and begins to cry as she reads the terrible, harsh words written before her
Rising Action
Ms. Strangeworth makes her way to the post office to dispose and send her letters out
All of the subplots revole around the letters sent out by Ms. Strangeworth. These are some of the secondary conflicts that arose:
Protagonist: Adela Strangeworth
Antagonist: Society/ townspeople

Round Characters: a fully developed/ complex-three dimensional character
Ms. Strangeworth
Helen Crane
Flat Characters: a limited/ undeveloped character with few traits
Mr. Lewis
Dave Harris
Dynamic Character: changes in response to the action of the narrative
Ms. Strangeworth
Static Character: character doesn't change, or temporary change
everyone amongst the town
Time: A nice warm summer day
Place: Unknown Town, Pleasant Street, Main Street, Grocery Store, Strangeworth house, post office, library
Atmosphere/mood: mocking/sarcastic
Symbolizes the theme, "appearance vs reality" which has a relfection on characters such as Ms. Strangeworth herself
advances straight to the plot
Point of View

Third person limited omniscient:
throughout the short story we hear the thoughts of Ms. Strangeworth but we also get to see what else is going on throughout the town at the same time
Literary Devices
Dramatic Irony:
Ms. Strangeworth writing the letters
When Ms. Strangeworth wakes up all joyful the next morning after delivering her letters
Ms. Strangeworth has a conversation with Mr. Lewis at the store and notices he's upset but does not say anything
Reader knows about all the gossip within the town
Ms. Strangeworth appears to be wanting to cleanse the town, but in reality she creates more evil
The happy colours of the paper she writes the notes on are ironic because she uses them to spread evil
Verbal Irony
Ms. Strangeworth gives Helen Crane advice on her baby, but in reality she doesn't care and she's only mocking her
Linda explains that she is forbidden from seeing Dave, yet they were seen fondling hands the following day
She has never had self-consciousness towards children- yet a child finds, and delivers her letter resulting in her downfall

Situational Irony
Don Crane sent Ms. Strangeworth a letter in return after the one he recieved, he ruins her roses which shocks readers because of how respected Ms. Strangeworth herself as well as her roses are in the town
Ms. Strangeworth describes how elegant and presentable her house is
Narrator goes into description about how beautiful and precious her roses are
Describes the beautiful day in the town she is living in
Pathetic Fallacy
Sunny/ Summer day= happiness, joy and purity- the townspeople seem content throughout the day
Darkness= letters, evil, destruction
As a reader, we feel pathos for the victims of Ms. Strangeworth who recieve the letters such as Helen, Don Crane, Mrs. Harper, Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Chandler and so on
Red Roses: loss of innocense, most prized possession
White Roses: innocense, purity, cleansing
struggle for power within the corrupt society the townspeople live in
The Strangeworth house:
tradition that she must carry on considering she is the last one left ( routine, heritage)
she's never spent a day outside of the town, sense of security
Symbolism Continued
Colours of the letters:
red, pink, blue, green, yellow are all happy and bright colours that contradict the messages portrayed on them

Black pocketbook:
black is a colour of evil, death and destruction- bad things to come
tool in which the evil letters are hid and kept sacred
wandering down the dark street= bad things are soon about to happen
Ms. Strangeworth recalls and explains how her grandfather built the town and her mother and grandmother cared for the roses
She remembers being highschool sweet hearts with Mr. Lewis
contrast between good and evil, this portrays the two personailities Ms. Strangeworth seems to have within herself- one seen as good, the other far from
words such as "lovely, evil, roses, my"
(light, lovely, sitting room) (big, black leather pocket book), (sweet, soft clothes)
she cries because of the wickedness in the world surrounding her
emphasize flawed society, provoking necessary conformity
language throughout the short story is throughly written, with no slang and no improper words/ sayings
long sentences, key description of the characters
Ms. Strangeworth always followed a routine
she always had proper etiquette
when the narrator describes Ms. Strangeworth doing something, it is always in a complex, structured sentence with plenty of detail for the readers
Psycho-Analytical Approach
Neurotic Behaviour
Ms. Strangeworth sending the letters portrays her as behaving neurotically, the townspeople are behavioung neurotically as a result of these letters
Ms. Strangeworth's idea of cleansing the town
She needs to honour the previous traditions by living up to the expectations of her family
Overactive Superego
Ms. Strangeworth does not leave the town she was raised in
Notices everything including the small things, she also speaks up about the things she notices
When she smells her roses from down the street, she rushes home
She has a daily routine and choses to never get distracted from that routine
Ms. Strangeworth is a perfectionist, when she makes a mistake she corrects it right away, shows a sign of Ms. Strangeworth having OCD
After she eats, or makes a mess in her house, she cleans it up right away so everything looks presentable
She is very nosy, she needs to know every single detail about all the townspeople's lives
Skewed Superego
Ms. Strangeworth has an obsession with her family, which leads her to wear their old things and carry on the tradition with the house
Has a sense of ownership over the town
Refuses to give away her roses
Thinks of herself so highly, refused to get married to Mr. Lewis because of social class
Ms. Strangeworth is too caught up in her family's pride, she believes no one is perfectly suited for her
She is looked up to in the town, and expects everyone to treat her like royalty and accomodate her schedule
Jealous of members within the town
Own tradition of writing letters, sense of ownership
Feels intense happiness after her "clensing ritual"
Overactive Id
Ms. Strangeworth embraces pleasure from writing her letters
Informs readers she is down to blue paper, represents she writes a lot
Attempts to lessen her anxiety by writing letters to sweep evil from her town

Phallic Symbols
The pencil she writes her letters with: authority/control
Stems of her roses: control over gardening, tradition

Womb Symbols
Envelope: portrays Ms. Strangeworth's creative side and her need to nurture and cleanse the town, protecting them from evil
Silver Chest: lack of female sexuality, no children, no husband, tries to make up for the fact that she failed to meet the femininity expecations
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