The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson

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What is the significance of Miss Strangeworth's name in "The Possibility of Evil"?

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Kelvin Brakus eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "The Possibility of Evil," Miss Strangeworth's name is significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the word "strange" suggests that there is something different and unusual about Miss Strangeworth. This acts as a warning to the reader, highlighting the need to watch her closely. This part of her name, therefore, foreshadows her role in the poison pen letter campaign which threatens the town. 

Secondly, the word "worth" is also significant in her name because it implies that Miss Strangeworth is very aware of her own worth. She values herself highly and, perhaps, believes that she is better or superior to the other residents of the town. This idea is supported in the second paragraph of the story when Miss Strangeworth reflects on her family's heritage and role in the foundation of the town. Her grandfather, for example, built the first house on Pleasant Street, a fact which brings Miss Strangeworth great pride.

Miss Strangeworth's name, then, is significant because it reveals much about her character while also foreshadowing her evil campaign.

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Jason Lulos eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Miss Strangeworth prides herself on pointing out faults in others. She is an elitist in this way. She thinks she has the moral authority to judge others and therefore, she thinks she is doing her part to eradicate evil in her town. However, the irony is that she is the one spreading misfortune and mistrust among the other citizens and therefore, she is the one creating more possibilities for people to be evil to one another. 

Her name is "Strangeworth." We might say that it is "strange" that she thinks there is value and worth to the work she does with her letters. In other words, she thinks she is doing something good, but the reader (and her fellow citizens) would argue that it is strange to consider these letters "worthy" of any praise. 

She also has two identities. She is amiable and friendly with people in person. But when she goes home, she becomes a malicious judge of those same people. "Strangeworth" nearly sounds like "stranger" and she is a stranger to those people. They don't know her real personality, her real feelings. 

The poet William Wordsworth has a name that is appropriate. He is a poet who's name suggests that "words" are "worth" something. Miss Strangeworth's "worth" is strange. Consider some synonyms of the word "strange" and how they might apply to Miss Strangeworth: deviating, unfamiliar, unknown, outlandish, aberrant. 

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