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In Shirley Jackson's "The Possibility of Evil," Miss Strangeworth at first seems a gracious and polite woman in the town where she grew up. Her family has been a part of this community since her grandfather built the lumber mill, more than a hundred years ago. Miss Strangeworth is a constant fixture in town, often speaking to tourists, and greeting everyone she meets as she is out walking.
When she enters the grocery store on this particular day, she is greeted by Tommy Lewis, the grocer, who she grew up and spent time with regularly at school functions. Here the reader learns is given the first indication that she is not as lovely as she first seems, and it sheds new light on her character: Miss Strangeworth is a snob—
...but the day young Lewis left high school and went to work in the grocery, Miss Strangeworth had stopped calling him Tommy and started calling him Mr. Lewis...
It is also inferred that Mr. Lewis understood that the relationship had changed in that he never used her given name anymore, but addressed her as Miss Strangeworth.
Upon meeting this morning and observing Mr. Lewis closely (Miss Strangeworth is really good at that), she finds that he is acting oddly. Usually so "chipper," she sees that he looks worried and tired, and he is noticeably silent. He is also forgetful, as if he has something on his mind—Miss Strangeworth has to remind him to include her tea, which she purchases every Tuesday.
We find the reason for Mr. Lewis' concern later in the story when we learn of Miss Strangeworth's evil behavior with the anonymous letters that she writes to members of the community.
Miss Strangeworth never concerned herself with facts; her letters all dealt with the more negotiable stuff of suspicion.
Whenever Miss Strangeworth perceives the possibility of evil, she writes a letter with her unfounded suspicions.
Mr. Lewis would never have imagined for a minute that is grandson might be lifting petty case from the store register if he had not had one of Miss Strangeworth's letters.
Notice use of the word "might."
Miss Strangeworth finds the behavior of another person at the store acting oddly. Though Miss Strangeworth and Mrs. Harper are on a first-name basis, their interaction is brief and polite. Adela Strangeworth notices that Mrs. Harper's hand shakes as she opens her pocketbook. Miss Strangeworth wonders if she has been watching out for her health. She notes that Mrs. Harper is getting older now and thought she might need a "good strong tonic."
"Martha," she said, "you don't look well."
"I'm perfectly all right," Mrs. Harper said shortly.
Mrs. Harper leaves and Miss Strangeworth thinks:
Martha definitely did not look well.
Later the reader once again discovers that not only has Miss Strangeworth decided to send Mrs. Harper a letter, but also that this will not be the first letter Mrs. Harper has received:
After thinking for a minute, [Miss Strangeworth] decided that she would write another letter, perhaps to go to Mrs. Harper, to follow up the ones she had already mailed.
In this new letter, we learn the reason for Mrs. Harper's unusually nervous behavior. Miss Strangeworth writes, with a stubby pencil on cheap colored paper, in block letters:
HAVE YOU FOUND OUT YET WHAT THEY WERE ALL LAUGHING ABOUT AFTER YOU LEFT BRIDGE CLUB ON THURSDAY? OR IS THE WIFE REALLY ALWAYS THE LAST ONE TO KNOW?
Miss Strangeworth is anything but what she outwardly appears to be. She plays havoc with the lives of anyone who comes under her notice. However, in the end, someone returns the favor.
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