How does the author use foreshadowing to build suspense in "The Possibility of Evil"?

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Jackson’s story is almost a kind of parable , in its directness and brevity. Alert readers will begin to suspect something is up in this little town by the tone of Jackson’s writing—there is an aggressive quality to the “perfectness” of the town and Miss Strangeworth’s proprietary feeling about it...

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Jackson’s story is almost a kind of parable, in its directness and brevity. Alert readers will begin to suspect something is up in this little town by the tone of Jackson’s writing—there is an aggressive quality to the “perfectness” of the town and Miss Strangeworth’s proprietary feeling about it that is a little uncomfortable. For instance, Jackson writes that Miss Strangeworth “sometimes found herself thinking that the town belonged to her,” a statement that is doubly concerning, first because it suggests that Miss Strangeworth might feel entitled to run the town, also, and second, because there is a kind of doubleness implicit in the narrator’s statement. The narrator is both addressing the reader, and choosing which “thoughts” that cross Miss Strangeworth’s mind to present to us. The question a reader must ask is: why is this sense of ownership important?

There are other cues as well: she has a sense of superiority to the tourists who admire her roses—she never gives them away, because she can’t imagine anything of hers belonging in “strange towns.” When she goes to the grocery store, she chides the grocer because he has forgotten that she always buys tea on Tuesdays; the grocer looks “tired;” elsewhere in the store, Mrs Harper hastily explains to Miss Strangeworth why she needs to buy sugar, with special attention paid to her shaking hands. Outside the store, she chides Helen Crane about worrying about her baby’s development. In each case, there is a sense that Miss Strangeworth is a keen observer, and that all too often things do not meet with her approval. She even notices the librarian’s hair on the way home with disapproval:”Miss Strangeworth hated sloppiness.”

All these things—her critical eye, her condescension to others, her sense of intitlement and social status—foreshadows her desire to control the lives of the people around her through her letters, and what will happen to her roses at the end of the story.

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The epigram to the story provides the first example of foreshadowing: "Little do the townsfolk suspect, though, that the dignified old woman leads another, secret life...". Right from the start, the reader knows to keep a close eye on Miss Strangeworth. In fact, the character's name is an example of foreshadowing. A name like hers raises readers' antennae for odd behavior.

Another example of foreshadowing is when Miss Strangeworth notes a townsperson acting out of character at the grocery store.

"Ran out of sugar for my cake frosting," Mrs. Harper explained. Her hand shook slightly as she opened her pocketbook. Miss Strangeworth wondered, glancing at her quickly, if she had been taking proper care of herself.

Mrs. Harper's shaking hand indicates she is feeling ill at ease. Later in the story, it is revealed that Miss Strangeworth had sent her a letter anonymously, implying that her husband was cheating on her.

Yet another example of foreshadowing is when Miss Strangeworth notices Linda Stewart upset. 

"Many people seemed disturbed recently, Miss Strangeworth thought. Only yesterday the Stewarts' fifteen-year-old Linda had run crying down her own front walk and all the way to school."

Linda is upset, the reader finds out later, because her father received a letter that warned him about Dave Harris and his intentions for his daughter. Linda was forbidden to see Dave anymore; again, this was Miss Strangeworth's doing. She believed that "people everywhere were lustful and evil and degraded, and needed to be watched" and it was her duty as the only living Strangeworth to do the watching and the telling.

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