Beyond the Layer: The Truth of Miss Strangeworth in “The Possibility of Evil”

October 28, 2021 by Essay Writer

Miss Adela Strangeworth, from the short story “The Possibility of Evil” by Shirley Jackson, is a 71-year old pensioner who lives in Pleasant Street. She takes pride in her home, the people’s respect for her, and especially her roses. To most people who are oblivious of the letters that she has been writing, she is considerate, proper and polite because she had to stop every minute to say good morning to someone or ask for someone’s health but to the one person who had discovered her secret, she is pretentious and a “chismosa”.

The narrator had mentioned that Miss Strangeworth “had to stop every minute or so to say good morning to someone or to ask after someone’s health” which shows her first important trait. She is considerate, proper and polite. This trait of hers is also apparent when she noticed that Mr. Lewis “looked worried,” and when Mrs. Harper’s hand “shook slightly as she opened her pocketbook,” and Ms. Strangeworth thought that she “could use a good, strong tonic.” It is also showing that Ms. Strangeworth is indeed proper when she encountered the librarian, Ms. Chandler, and she noticed that Ms. Chandler “had not taken much trouble with her hair this morning” and the narrator had claimed that Ms. Strangeworth “hated sloppiness.” Aside from the fact that she is a known elder in the town, this is the characteristics got the people to respect Ms. Strangeworth. An English idiom “Don’t judge a book by its covers” is a metaphorical phrase that reminds us not to prejudge the value of someone or something by their appearance.

As discussed previously, Ms. Strangeworth is an ordinary 71-year-old woman and lives in Pleasant Street, someone who is considerate and polite. However, the way she thinks and her actions when no one is watching is a complete opposite. It also shows when she talked to Don and Helen Crane about their baby, and she advised an anxious Helen about how she thinks her baby is growing too slow. Ms. Strangeworth said “..All babies are different. Some of them develop much more quickly than others,” but then wrote a letter to Don stating “Didn’t you ever see an idiot child before? Some people shouldn’t have children, should they?” As she was walking down the street, she stopped “once to ask little Billy Moore why he wasn’t out riding in his daddy’s shiny new car,” acting as though she was genuinely interested in the child’s whereabouts. But it was later revealed that she “had thought of writing one more letter to the head of the school board, asking how a chemistry teacher like Billy Moore’s father afford a new convertible.” Lastly, she had shown concern to Mrs. Harper when she had encountered her in the grocery store but was shown to be sending letters with news coming only from her observation.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “The only deception men suffer their own opinion.” This quote embodies Ms. Strangeworth ’s unnoticed characteristic. She is what you can call a “chismosa.” As the story progresses, the narrator had stated that miss Strangeworth “never concerns herself with facts; her letters all dealt with the more negotiable stuff of suspicion.” This shows us that even though she posts like a normal senior woman that cares for everyone in her town, she is a woman that creates tattletales according to only on her observation and opinions. While she is writing her letters, she took a blue sheet and wrote “You never know about doctors. Remember they’re only human and need money like the rest of us. Suppose the knife slipped accidentally. Would Doctor Burns get his fee and a little extra from that nephew of yours?” to a woman having an operation next month, Mrs. Foster. In this letter, she implied that the nephew might plot murder and pay the doctor to slip the knife “accidentally” because as she had said, doctors are “only human and need money like the rest of us.” On her way to the post office to mail her letters, she heard Linda Stewart crying, and “Miss Strangeworth listened carefully.” This habit of Ms. Strangeworth. She is listening, observing and drawing conclusions without investigating and collecting facts.

The story “The Possibility of Evil” is a story that shows us not everything is what it seems. Ms. Adela Strangeworth symbolizes this theme. Even though the town sees her as a respectable elderly who is considerate, proper and polite, underneath the surface and all the lies she is pretentious and tells tattletales. She shows that evil is indeed lurking everywhere.

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