The Possibility of Evil by Shirley Jackson

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Buddha once stated, “it is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.” In “The Possibility of Evil,” Miss Strangeworth, a seemingly innocent elderly woman, sends cruel letters in order to rid her town of evil. When other townspeople discover her as the author of the letters, they destroy her prized roses. Shirley Jackson’s “The Possibility of Evil” not only reveals the deceitfulness of people, but also emphasizes the underlying evil of all humans and shows that evil remains insurmountable until fully accepted. Above all, in “The Possibility of Evil,” Jackson’s use of symbolism and irony allows her to unveil the dishonesty possessed by many people. Like Miss Strangeworth, her roses serve as a trademark of the town. And, similarly to the roses, although Miss Strangeworth seems pleasant, she possesses hidden thorns. When a dropped letter reveals Miss Strangeworth’s actions, her neighbors destroy her roses. “[Miss Strangeworth] began to cry silently . . . when she read the words: LOOK OUT AT WHAT USED TO BE YOUR ROSES”(Jackson 7). The destroyed roses represent Miss Strangeworth being exposed; there is no longer any pride or joy in the roses or Miss Strangeworth. Jackson’s use of symbolism throughout the story allows her to divulge the insincerity of everyday people. Throughout the story, Jackson also employs irony. Often, Miss Strangeworth engages in small talk with her neighbors while ironically consuming her time with cynical thoughts of the very
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