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The Possibility of Evil - Character Analysis

An in-depth look at who Miss Adela Strangeworth from “The Possibility of Evil” written by Shirely Jackson in 1965

Josh Nicholas

on 5 October 2013

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Transcript of The Possibility of Evil - Character Analysis

The Fascinatingly Odd Life of
Miss Adela Strangeworth

Physical Descriptions:
Prim/ Neat
“Consequently, she timed her walk so she could reach the post office just as darkness was starting to dim the outlines of the trees and the shapes of peoples’ faces, although no one could ever mistake Miss Strangeworth, with her dainty walk and her rustling skirts.”
“She was seventy-one, Miss Strangeworth told the tourists, with a pretty little dimple showing by her lip, and she sometimes found herself thinking that the town belonged to her.”
“My grandfather built the first house on Pleasant Street,” she would say, opening her blue eyes with the wonder of it.”
Miss Adele Strangeworth is a 71 year old resident of a small town. She lives on Pleasant Street which is where her parents and grandparents have all lived. She is unmaried which is noticeable by her title "miss" and from her name it is also possible to tell that she sounds like she might be quite posh.
Miss Adele Strangeworth
Miss Strangeworth appears physically as a normal, common elderly lady who kept herself very prim and proper. I see her physical appearance to be a mask of who she really is.
Emotional Descriptors
“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.”
“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 letter to open their eyes.”
“Miss Strangeworth noticed that Miss Chandler had not taken much trouble with her hair this morning, and sighed. Miss Strangeworth hated sloppiness.”
Miss Strangeworth had two very different personalities with different emotional outlooks. To the people of her town, she appeared to be pleasant and kind. However, she was actually very bitter and afraid. Perhaps the most interesting part of her emotions is that she wrote the letters because she thought it was purposeful. She wouldn't think herself to be evil, all she was doing was trying to help the town by eliminating the possibility if evil.
Intellectual Dispositions
“She selected a green sheet this time and wrote quickly: Have you found out yet what they were all laughing about after you left the bridge club on Thursday? Or is the wife really the last one to know? Miss Strangeworth never concerned herself with facts; her letters all dealt with the more negotiable stuff of suspicion.”
“She never got any answers, of course, because she never signed her name…”
““I’ve been worrying, though, about her. Don’ you think she ought to move around more? Try to sit up, for instance? She just seems – slow,” Helen Crane said. “Nonsense. All babies are different. Some of them develop much more quickly than others,” Miss Strangeworth replied”
Miss Strangeworth was a very deceptively cunning individual. She never lied, but her immensely harsh honesty to other people in the town eventually came to people in the town strongly disliking her resulting in her own emotional downfall.

“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 Doctor Burns get his fee and a little extra from that nephew of yours? She addressed the blue envelope to old Mrs. Foster, who was having an operation next month."
“Consequently, she timed her walk so she could reach the post office just as darkness was starting to dim the outlines of the trees and the shapes of peoples’ faces...”
“She never got any answers, of course, because she never signed her name…”
“Miss Strangeworth would have been genuinely shocked if there had been anything between Linda Stewart and the Harris boy, but, as long as evil existed unchecked in the world, it was Miss Strangeworth’s duty to keep her town alert to it.”
It appears that Miss Strangeworth had a very schizophrenic personality where sometimes she was a nice harmless old lady and at other times she was causing grief in the town. She didn't care about how these letters affected the recipients but she was so determined to send them in her bid to reduce the possibility of evil without anyone knowing she sent them.
Miss Strangeworth had lived in her little town her whole life
““My grandfather built the first house on Pleasant Street,” she would say, opening her blue eyes with the wonder of it. This house, right here. My family has lived here for better than a hundred years”
“She knew everyone in town, of course; she was fond of telling strangers –tourists who sometimes passed through the town and stopped to admire Miss Strangeworth’s roses – that she had never spent more than a day outside this town in all her long life.”
Miss Strangeworth was a very proud person who was happy where she lived but wanted to rid the town of any possible evil.
To make her town better by ridding it of evil
“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.”
Miss Strangeworth was unhappy with the way people presented themselves and acted in 'her' town. So her solution was to send hurtful, truthful and/ or scary anonymous letters to people in a bid to reduce the town of any possible evil.
Character’s Interactions with others or the world in general
Miss Strangeworth is pleasant with people in her town
Miss Strangeworth tends to her roses as if her life depends on it
Miss Strangeworth writes mean, harsh letters to individuals in the town
““Yes, thank you, Mr. Lewis. Such a lovely day, isn’t it?” “Lovely,” Mr. Lewis said.”
“When she came into the grocery, half a dozen people turned away from the shelves and counters to wave at her or call out good morning.”
“My grandmother planted these roses, and my mother tended them, just as
I do.”…Miss Strangeworth never gave away any of her roses, although the
tourists often asked her. 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…”
“Miss Strangeworth never concerned herself with facts; her letters all dealt with the more negotiable stuff of suspicion. 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 letter to open their eyes.”
Miss Strangeworth acts very pleasantly with the people in the town but interacts with these same people very harshly in her letters. Probably her most affectionate interaction is with her roses. She cares for them constantly as if her life depended on it.
In-Depth Inference
As pleasant and bitter Miss Strangeworth’s was, I believe that to a certain level she was also very afraid. Miss Strangeworth was very odd in her schizophrenic mentality. When she talked to people in person, she was a sweet, lovely old lady. However, as soon as she was alone, the mask came off and she became a very bitter and harsh woman. I don’t think that she just has these two main emotional descriptors though. Miss Strangeworth does not write these letters because she is crazy, and she certainly does not write them because she has the intention and/ or want to be evil; she writes them because she is afraid of what would become of her town if she didn’t. In her own eyes, I’m sure Miss Strangeworth views herself as the backbone of her town. Without her it wouldn’t run. Her grandparents and parents all lived in the same town, on the same street and I think Miss Strangeworth sees it as her duty to keep the town running well and that everyone is being responsible and nice. She’s afraid to see what would happen to this town if it is overrun by evil. So she has found her own solution to defeat the possibility of evil in town, and to conquer her fear of it. I think there are other ways that Miss Strangworth could have conquered her fear evil, for instance speaking kindly and personally to these people to stop them from doing things again instead of scaring them.
Psychological Descriptors
In-Depth Inference

I think that Miss Strangeworth is a very evil but not a crazy lady. She writes harsh, mean letters to people and all it does is cause grief, sorrow and worry to the recipients, yet Miss Strangeworth sees absolutely nothing wrong with it. In my opinion, to be evil, is whether you intentionally did something morally wrong or harmful. The Kenyan mall shooting was an evil act of terror. The killers went to the mall with the intention of killing as many people as possible so long as they weren’t Muslim. They knew that lives would be lost, but people might argue that in their opinion they thought they were doing the right thing so they aren’t evil. They believe only the Muslims should live and that the Western society is killing them. If they think what they are doing is just, then maybe it isn’t evil. However, I disagree with that on the parameters that whether someone who does an act of evil believes it is just or not, or morally right or not, it is still evil because you are not treating someone else equally to yourself. As equals in life and society, everyone is entitled to the same basic human rights. To take away someone’s rights is not only criminal, but taking away the government, it is morally wrong because we should still treat one another as equals. Miss Strangeworth is evil because she writes the harsh and mean letters. Whether she intends on the being evil or not, they still are, which is what makes her evil. I believe that she is very sane though. She genuinely thinks that to reduce the possibility of evil in her town she has to send these letters. That isn’t a crazy thought; it is merely her own personal perspective. Gay couples 100 years ago or even 50 years ago, would have been seen as crazy people. People would think something is messed up with their mind. However, in today’s society, I see that we have definitely grown hugely more accepting of homosexuality and these people and that it is merely these people’s thought of life and personal perceptions, not that they’re crazy.

In-Depth Inference
I believe that Miss Strangeworth lives and grew up in England. I thought this from the start of the story mainly because of her character, the name of places, and how people in the town interact. In most North American towns and cities, most street names are allocated by numbers whereas in England, streets are rarely given numerical names and are always allocated by names. Pleasant Street definitely sounds like the type of name an English street would have. The name Adela Strangeworth also sounds very English and very posh as well. Adela was a popular name in the 1930’s in England which also suggests she lived there. I feel as though Miss Strangeworth’s sense of pride, superiority and her thought of being infallible seems quite common of the older generation of English people.
My Granddad in England had very bigoted views of society and what was right or wrong. This led him to think that his white daughter marrying a black man was not at all allowed or to be accepted. He genuinely thought that his views of life were correct and that my mum was crazy to marry a black man. I assume that Miss Strangeworth was brought up with the thought that the town belonged to her and that there should be no evil in it. This is similar to how my granddad probably grew up with the thought that black people were lower class and not equals. Unlike Miss Strangeworth though and her thoughts on what is right and wrong, over time my granddad has accepted my dad and my parents as a couple, and has changed his thoughts on society.
Look out at what used to be your roses
Miss Strangeworth did not change during this story. However, after it was discovered she sent the letters, and her beloved roses were destroyed, I believe that Miss Strangeworth would change; she would become a better person instead of being a sinner.
Miss Adela Strangeworth
“She never knew when she might feel like writing letters, so she kept her notepaper inside, and the desk locked. Miss Strangeworth’s usual stationary was heavy and cream-coloured, with “Strangeworth House” engraved across the top, but, when she felt like writing her other letter, Miss Strangeworth used a pad of various-coloured paper, layered in pink and green and blue and yellow.”
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