person's head surrounded by envelopes connected by a rose vine that spirals into the person's brain and at the other end blooms into a rose surrounded by lost petals

The Possibility of Evil

by Shirley Jackson

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What is the foreshadowing in "The Possibility of Evil"?

The foreshadowing in "The Possibility of Evil" is Miss Strangeworth’s obsession with her prized roses. She treats these family heirlooms with more respect and love than she treats other people in her town. Her excessive possessiveness of the roses and their precious role in adorning her superficially perfect home foreshadows their destruction and her comeuppance at the end.

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In "The Possibility of Evil," Miss Strangeworth is particularly enamored with her roses, which have been in her family for generations. As the community busybody and self-appointed arbiter of morality, the elderly woman is provincial but actually proud of this quality:

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 also boasts of her family’s heritage in the town and the roses as heirlooms:

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 wide 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."

She prizes the roses so much that her possessiveness and snobbery are evident in her treatment of them; to her, they are more valuable and worthy of respect than people. They belong to no other person and nowhere else. Miss Strangeworth owns them like she thinks she "owns" the townspeople.

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.

Author Shirley Jackson sets up Miss Strangeworth’s excessive pride and proprietorial attitude early on in order to foreshadow the elderly woman’s later comeuppance. The roses represent security as well as an all-too-perfect appearance:

The perfume of roses meant home, and home meant the Strangeworth House on Pleasant Street. Miss Strangeworth stopped at her own front gate, as she always did, and looked with deep pleasure at her house, with the red and pink and white roses massed along the narrow lawn, and the rambler going up along the porch; and the neat, unbelievably trim lines of the house itself, with its slimness and its washed white look.

The masses of multicolored roses accent her white home’s impeccable look. Descriptors like "narrow," "unbelievably trim lines," and "slimness" reiterate her provincial nature and suggest her megalomaniacal control. This picture-perfect portrait of Strangeworth House on Pleasant Street is ripe for shattering.

Through the course of the story, Jackson reveals Miss Strangeworth’s self-righteous, speculative, inflammatory harassment of her fellow townspeople, all in the name of safeguarding others from evil. In fact, she—not others—is the source of evil in the community. Her malevolent authority over others is actually frail—as are her beloved roses. Up to near the end of the story, her roses are her unscathed, precious children that signify her sense of superiority over everyone else.

The roses are also the victims of retribution. After a recipient of one of her anonymous poison-pen letters discovers her identity as its author, vengeance is wreaked upon the roses. When Miss Strangeworth realizes this, she is greeted with the ominous words:

LOOK OUT AT WHAT USED TO BE YOUR ROSES.

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