Short story: “The Possibility of Evil”

by look i have opinions

“The Possibility of Evil,” by Shirley Jackson

First appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, December 18, 1965; slightly garbled version available as a PDF

2,736 words

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • This seems to get classed as a horror story from time to time. It’s certainly creepy enough to qualify. The image of the prim, upright lady scrawling these disgusting notes is uncanny, and the final note has the effect of violence without any hint of bloodshed.
  • The title sounds like it’s hinting at some philosophical or religious meaning, but I think it just literally sums up Miss Strangeworth’s mean-spirited obsession and the hypocrisy of the same.
  • Favorite bit is when she overhears Linda apparently talking about the awful letter her family received, and sighs to think of “so much evil in people.” Second favorite: her reflection that “a clean heart was a scoured heart.”
  • I think we’re supposed to enjoy Miss Strangeworth’s comeuppance, but also maybe enjoy her meanness and obtuseness in themselves—e.g., the last line’s implication that she hasn’t learned a thing. Or maybe we’re even supposed to learn something from her, I don’t know. I always have a hard time believing that such a blatantly judgmental story is intended to be didactic; I somehow expect didactic stories to be subtler and have wiser characters. (If they’re well written, I mean. And this is Shirley Jackson.)
  • The name “Strangeworth” really bothers me. It sounds so blatantly sinister. I want the character (and street) to have a dry, stately name, Stonehurst or Elmingstoke or Winterbourne or something.