‘The Possibility Of Evil’ by Shirley Jackson


The Possibility Of Evil by Shirley Jackson, 1965

The magic trick:

Surprising the reader with a character’s true nature

If you’ve read Jackson’s “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts,” you’re familiar with what’s going on in “The Possibility Of Evil.” Jackson is focused on the everyday details of small-time life in order to make a point about control and perspective. The title turns out to be the crux of the issue. Miss Adela Strangeworth thinks she is saving her town, proactively limiting the possibility of evil. The reader likely sees the situation a little differently. And that’s quite a trick on Jackson’s part.

The selection:

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. 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. This house, right here. My family has lived here for better than a hundred years. My grandmother planted these roses, and my mother tended them, just as I do.”…


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