The Possibility of Evil Characters

The main characters in “The Possibility of Evil” are Miss Adela Strangeworth and the townspeople.

  • Miss Adela Strangeworth is the main character of the story. She keeps apart from the other townspeople and writes them anonymous, cruel, and often false letters to “alert” them of what she considers bad behavior.
  • The townspeople, all of whom seem to have been affected by Miss Strangeworth’s letters, include Mr. Lewis, who owns the grocery store; Helen and Don Crane, the parents of a young baby; and Linda Stewart and Dave Harris, young people Miss Strangeworth encounters outside the post office.


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Miss Adela Strangeworth

Miss Adela Strangeworth is the main character of this short story by Shirley Jackson. She is seventy-one years old, and even in the context of the narrative voice thinks of herself as “Miss Strangeworth,” a form of address which befits her status (in her mind) as the woman whose grandfather built the first house on Pleasant Street. She knows everybody in town, has never left it, and still tends the roses her grandmother tended in the house the family has owned for a hundred years. She is extremely possessive of these roses.

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As Miss Strangeworth moves around town on her errands, she speaks to everybody, dispensing advice but also remarking on their appearance and comportment; she “could not abide sloppiness.” Despite the air of propriety she gives off, however, the reader soon learns that Adela’s interest in others’ affairs is born out of a moralistic sense that she is the puritanical guardian of the town. It is her duty to “alert” inhabitants to her suspicions about the bad behavior of their family and friends. Miss Strangeworth clearly enjoys this “duty”: “she liked writing her letters.”

Evidently, as she leaves the letters unsigned, Miss Strangeworth knows on some level that this is not a worthy moral crusade. She also posts her letters in secret, hoping not to be seen. When, however, she drops one of her unsigned letters, her secret is discovered by one of the young people whose lives she has ruined by exposing their “wickedness,” and Miss Strangeworth is duly punished. At the end of the story, it is strongly implied that her roses have been destroyed.

Mr. Lewis

Mr. Lewis owns the grocery store where Miss Strangeworth purchases her daily goods. Although she addresses him cheerily, Mr. Lewis does not appear happy to see Miss Strangeworth. Instead, he seems “tired” and “worried,” and he is unable to remember Miss Strangeworth’s usual order as she feels he should. It is later revealed that Miss Strangeworth has sent Mr. Lewis an unsigned letter saying that his grandson has been taking money from the cash register. However, the reader cannot be sure whether or not this (or any of the information in Miss Strangeworth’s letters) is true:

Miss Strangeworth never concerned herself with facts; her letters all dealt with the more negotiable stuff of suspicion.

Whether the report is true or not, the letter is presumably the cause of Mr. Lewis’s worry and distraction.

Martha Harper

Martha Harper is a woman Miss Strangeworth encounters in the grocery store. Under the pretense of concern, Miss Strangeworth observes to herself that Martha is no longer as young as she used to be, and thinking that she needs a “tonic” or impetus to take care of herself, Miss Strangeworth writes to Martha to imply that her husband is having an affair.

Helen Crane

Helen Crane is the devoted young mother of a new baby. She expresses her worries to Miss Strangeworth that the child is not developing as quickly as she might have expected. Miss Strangeworth puts Helen’s mind at rest, pretending to be an interested and concerned neighbor, but Helen...

(The entire section contains 866 words.)

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