person's head surrounded by envelopes connected by a rose vine that spirals into the person's brain and at the other end blooms into a rose surrounded by lost petals

The Possibility of Evil

by Shirley Jackson

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Who are the characters in "The Possibility of Evil"?

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In Shirley Jackson's 1965 short story, there is the main character, Miss Adela Strangeworth, and few characters interact with her directly. There is Mr. Lewis, the grocer, who assembles her grocery order of a tomato, four ounces of tea, a can of cat food, a box of strawberries from town resident Arthur Parker's garden, and a veal chop. Mrs. Martha Harper is also shopping for cake sugar when Miss Strangeworth completes her purchase.

Miss Strangeworth encounters Helen Crane and her six-month-old daughter when she leaves the grocery store. They speak of Helen's husband, Don, and Helen's mother. Next, Miss Strangeworth speaks to Billy Moore about his father's car and Miss Chandler, the librarian, on her walk home from shopping.

Later, when Miss Strangeworth walks to the post office to send her three nasty letters, she encounters a group of young people assembled on the sidewalk outside.

The remainder of characters in the story are either referenced in Miss Strangeworth's thoughts or in the conversation she hears between the Stewart's fifteen-year-old daughter, Linda, and the Harris boy, Dave.

Those alluded to in Miss Strangeworth's thoughts are Mr. Shelley, Mr. Shelley's deceased first wife, and Doctor Burns, whose competence she calls into question. She thinks of old Mrs. Foster and Billy Moore's father, the chemistry teacher.

Finally, there is the unnamed person who sends Miss Strangeworth a letter and knows who has destroyed the roses of which she is so proud.

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Who is the story's main character in "The Possibility of Evil"?

Miss Strangeworth is the main character in Jackson's story.

"The Possibility of Evil" takes place in an unnamed, small town.  While the town could be anywhere, there can only be one main character.  The story's primary focus is Adela Strangeworth.  She "knows everyone in town" and had pretty much lived in the town all her life.  Essentially, she is the means through which we know the townspeople.  She is a "busy body," someone who finds it important to know information that would prevent the presence of evil in the town that she loves so much.  

Jackson explores the story's themes through Miss Strangeworth. The themes of duplicity amongst people, the right to be left alone, and how good intentions can lead to disastrous consequences are all a part of Miss Strangeworth's characterization.  She is the reason why so many people in the town are acting in a different way.  Jackson writes that "Many people seemed disturbed recently" because of Miss Strangeworth's letters.  Miss Strangeworth initiates the story's plot.  She is the main character because the entirety of the text is about her and her interactions with others.  While the other characters in the story are interchangeable, Miss Strangeworth occupies great importance and serves as the protagonist in Jackson's short story. 

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