The Possibility of Evil


The Possibility of Evil

"The Possibility of Evil" is a 1965 short story by Shirley Jackson. Published on December 18, 1965 in the "Saturday Evening Post",cite news|url=http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0E10FA3B5E147B93C3A9178ED85F428685F9|title=Criminals At Large|last=Boucher|first=Anthony|date=1966-05-01|work=The New York Times|publisher=The New York Times Company|pages=p. 335|accessdate=2008-05-25] a few months after her death, it won the 1966 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best mystery short story.cite web|url=http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/mss/eadxmlmss/eadpdfmss/1996/ms996001.pdf|title=Shirley Jackson: A Register of Her Papers in the Library of Congress|last=Batts|first=Grover|coauthors=McElderry, Michael; McLemee, Scott|date=1993|format=PDF|work=American Memory from the Library of Congress|publisher=Library of Congress|pages=p. 4|accessdate=2008-05-25] It has since been reprinted in the 1996 collection "Just an Ordinary Day".cite news|url=http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/12/28/nnp/20569.html|title=Distress Signals|last=Oates|first=Joyce Carol|date=1996-12-29|work=The New York Times|publisher=The New York Times Company|accessdate=2008-05-25]

While not as well-known or read as her earlier classic, "The Lottery", it has become more appreciated as Jackson's talent and influence have become better appreciated outside the horror community since her death. It, too, is being assigned in high school English classes.

Plot

The story follows Ms. Strangeworth, a single elderly woman living in a small town. She is known among her townsfolk for the garden of beautiful roses she keeps in front of her house. She is also adored by many of the visitors to her small town because of her many years of residence there. They don't know, however, that she is the writer of anonymous, malicious notes to various people informing them of gossip and rumors about their friends and hated ones. The notes often insinuate or suggest family problems, such as the grocer's grandson stealing money from the grocery store, mocking the Crane baby, who has developed slower than other babies, or mention surreptitious love affairs, saying things like "Or is the wife really always the last to know? " She bases a lot of the information received in these notes on speculation rather than proof. The revelations in the notes she sends have caused rifts in more than one family and led to the ending of relationships. Due to some carelessness on Ms. Strangeworth's part (she dropped one of the three letters), two local teens (Linda and the Harris boy), both among her victims, deliver the letter to the recipient (the Cranes). The story ends with Ms. Strangeworth herself opening a note similar to the ones she has sent others, saying, "LOOK OUT AT WHAT USED TO BE YOUR ROSES"

Themes

Like "The Lottery", "The Possibility of Evil" concerns itself with the darkness that lies beneath the placid surface of an American small town named Lottery. The short story is often used to demonstrate the theme of morality. The main character uses her letters to ridicule all the differences the minor characters in the story have.

Notes


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