The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson

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What lessons does "The Possibility of Evil" teach about human nature?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The story presents us with a pretty grim picture of human nature overall. Outwardly, Miss Strangeworth is a harmless, respectable old lady, a pillar of the community. However, in the comfort and seclusion of her study she is a vicious, hateful individual writing poison pen letters to various people in the town. What is all the more disturbing about Miss Strangeworth's behavior is that she genuinely believes that she is doing good. As far as she is concerned, she is the town's unofficial guardian of public morals. As such, she feels that she has the right to put people straight about raising their children, for example.

What Jackson hints at in the story is the banality of evil. From countless books, movies, and TV shows, we often gain the impression that evil is completely black and white, whether it takes the form of brutal dictators, wicked stepmothers, or blood-thirsty vampires. Jackson shows us, however, just how terribly ordinary evil can be and how those engaged in evil acts often...

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