An emotion like “happy” could be described with over-the-top feeling, as “exuberant” or with a more subdued connotation, as “content.” Likewise, the mood of a story can be identified through the specific word choices and literary devices a writer uses to create a definite and identifiable feeling in the reader throughout the story. The mood of a story can be somewhat subjective for individual readers. Yet, a close reading and a brief literary analysis of the writer’s specific word choices relative to the theme or central conflict of the story support mere opinion.
Specific words and phrases in Shirley Jackson’s “The Possibility of Evil” indicate a mood of foreboding. This mood begins in the title and continues throughout the narrative to an almost foregone conclusion. The word “evil” in the title immediately invokes the classic literary theme of a battle of good vs. evil. It invites the reader to contemplate how the nature of and perceptions of “evil” will be explored in the story.
The battle between good and evil plays out throughout the story in lines such as, “as long as evil existed unchecked in the world, it was Miss Strangeworth’s duty to keep her town alert to it.” Arguably, this line indicates the central conflict of the story in somewhat religious overtones. Miss Strangeworth is beyond the stereotypical town busybody. The character is portrayed as very judgmental and, in fact, hypocritical. Jackson skillfully sets up the reader to wonder and to contemplate the moral and ethical paradoxes evident in the character’s actions. Further, the phrase tempts readers to discover what will happen in the course of events relative to the character’s judgments. Again, Jackson’s skillful setup of the mood of the story can be described as foreboding.
The choice of the word “foreboding” to describe the mood of the story is largely subjective. However, by looking closely at words and phrases in the story that reveal Miss Strangeworth’s character, any adjective similar to “foreboding” will likely describe the mood of “The Possibility of Evil.” ENotes includes several resources for literary analysis of the story. Happy reading!