The Possibility of Evil Questions and Answers
by Shirley Jackson

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What is the purpose of the letters that Miss Strangeworth sends in "The Possibility of Evil"?

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It would appear that Miss Strangeworth does not understand her own motive or motives for writing her anonymous letters. She rationalizes that it is her civic duty to keep the citizens of her town alerted to the possibilities of evil threatening them personally. She is the last surviving member of the town's founding family and is exceptionally proud of that distinction—although it means little to anybody else. She is just a lonely old maid who has nothing to do with her time and has to make up activities to fill her days. A good example of this is the way she goes grocery-shopping practically every day and buys in very small quantities so that she will have to keep coming back and have at least one thing to do. She thinks she is so important as a person and as a customer that the store-owner Mr. Lewis should remember that she always buys a small quantity of tea on Tuesdays.

"Imagine your forgetting that I always buy my tea on Tuesday," Miss Strangeworth said gently. "A quarter pound of tea, please, Mr. Lewis."

There is no reason why she couldn't buy a full pound of tea once a month, but this gives her an excuse to keep coming back. Time weighs heavily on her hands. She has only discovered the pleasure of writing her poison-pen letters in the past year. They give her something to do, and she can tell herself that she is contributing to the welfare of the community. She cannot realize that she is a busybody and a troublemaker. Her letters are doing no good, only harm. Much of the evil she suspects in others is a...

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