We do not learn that Miss Strangeworth is writing letters until we are well into the story. Reread the opening and note the clues the author provides to alert the reader to Miss Strangeworth’s true nature.What are some clues that Miss Strangeworth is not a nice person? What lessons does the story teach about human nature? Do you think the title is appropriate? Identify the significance of the following (what do they mean? How are they important in the story?):

  • Miss Strangeworth’s name
  • Miss Strangeworth’s roses
  • The color of her envelope and writing paper
  •  “...as long as evil existed in the world, it was Miss Strangeworth’s duty to keep her town alert to it"

Expert Answers

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Clues that Miss Strangeworth is not a nice person

She never gives away any of her roses. She expected the store clerk Mr. Lewis to remember exactly what she buys every Tuesday and scolds him for not reminding her to buy tea. She notes the negatives in everyone’s appearance rather than the positives: Mr. Lewis looked tired and worried, Mrs. Harper looked old, Mrs. Chandler looks distracted and her hair is messy. Only her own home seems perfect to Miss Strangeworth.

What lessons does the story teach about human nature?

Mrs. Strangeworth is concerned about the possibility of evil, so she wants everyone to be aware of the possible evil around them. She ruins people’s lives by making them worried about things that aren’t true. The theme is that people who are bent on stamping out evil in the world are often the ones who cause the most evil themselves.

Do you think the title is appropriate? Explain why or why not.

The title is appropriate because the evil that Miss Strangeworth writes about is only a possibility. They are not even probabilities, just very unlikely possibilities. She writes that the Crane baby she just saw that morning is an idiot child, without any proof. She writes that Mrs. Harper should be suspicious of her husband, with no evidence that he has done anything wrong. She wrote Miss Chandler the librarian a letter insinuating that the man she loves may have killed his first wife, thus causing Miss Chandler grief and worry. She has made Mr. Lewis worried that his grandson may be stealing cash from the register without any facts to back up such a suspicion.

Miss Strangeworth’s name

Miss Strangeworth is a strange person. She thinks that she has a lot of worth, as she has lived in the town all her life and her family were one of the first families to settle the town. It is strange that Mrs. Strangeworth would consider the letters she writes as having any value or worth when in fact they only cause evil, suspicion, and misery.

Miss Strangeworth’s roses

Mrs. Strangeworth is very proud of her house and especially proud of the beautiful roses that her grandmother planted and her mother tended, like she tends them now. She can’t stand the thought of any of them being given to a tourist or a stranger and thus leaving her perfect little town. In fact she has never given away a single rose, as if these roses are more precious than any of the people to whom she could have given one in her long life.

The color of her envelope and writing paper

Miss Strangeworth uses the same paper everyone else in the town uses. She may have selected a pink sheet for her letter about the Crane baby because the baby is a girl. She may have selected a green sheet to write to Mrs. Harper because green is color associated with jealousy and envy and she wants Mrs. Harper to suspect her husband of adultery.

“...as long as evil existed in the world, it was Miss Strangeworth’s duty to keep her town alert to it.”

This is Mrs. Strangeworth’s mission in life—to alert the people in her town of the evil that may possibly be threatening them. But because all her letters concern only unfounded suspicions, she is in fact bringing evil into relationships between people, causing them to suspect each other, rather than actually doing anything to stop evil.

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