The Masked Woman
One can never tell a person’s true intentions by judging their appearance. The appearance is an illusion, which can hide people’s dark secrets. Adela Strangeworth, a woman in “The Possibility of Evil,” by Shirley Jackson, creates a fake version of herself when she is in public by showing her sweet, respectful, and delightful personality. She is friendly with everyone else, and people seem to enjoy her company. However, when Adela is home, she writes offensive anonymous letters to her neighbours, spreading suspicion and lies in her town. From the two contrasting personalities that Adela switches depending on her surroundings, she is self-righteous, overprotective, and deceiving.
Adela shows signs of being a self-righteous person. Every day, Adela goes home to her desk to “[write] her letters” (Jackson 4). The reason Adela writes letters to others is to make sure that they are “aware of the evil lurking nearby” (Jackson 4). She believes that writing anonymous letters is the right thing to do for the town. However, in the end, the letters cause more chaos and sadness. One time, she insults two parents when writing a letter by asking them if ”[they] ever see an idiot child before? Some people just shouldn’t have children, should they?” (Jackson 4) She thinks by insulting the parents, they will understand that their child is not smart. She believes that she is right to send that letter, and the parents are grateful for the letter. Therefore, from her mindset, beliefs, and interactions, Adela believes that she is always right.
In addition to her self-righteousness, Adela tends to be overprotective of others. Every day when she is alone at home, she writes anonymous insults to her neighbours or close friends. Ironically, she believes that it is “[her] duty to keep her town alert to [evil]” (Jackson 4). In her mind, she pictures herself as some kind of hero. Adela thinks about the good she is bringing into the town and how she is making her town a better place. She alerts the town by sending letters without her name, which in the end leaves the recipients in agony and misery. Yet, she believes that there are too many “wicked people in the world” even though she is the wicked person spreading chaos into the town (Jackson 4). Adela thinks that it is her job to save the town and to get rid of the masks that cover the evil. Hence, Adela wants to protect everyone in her town by revealing the truth through anonymous letters.
Finally, based on her thoughts, words, and actions, Adela comes across as a deceitful woman. Publicly, she displays a gregarious and sweet personality. Thus, most people enjoy her company. For example, when she walks “into the grocery store, half a dozen people [turn] away from the shelves and counters to wave at her” (Jackson 2). However, in her home, she is a completely different person. She is mean and writes offensive comments to others. For instance, she insults someone by saying what if “the knife slipped accidentally. Would Doctor Burns get his fee and a little extra from that nephew of yours?” (Jackson 5) She also insults some parents because of their child by calling the child “an idiot” (Jackson 4). Adela’s friends think that she is a social and kind person; however, in reality, she has a cruel dark side. Adela is tricking everyone into believing her kind and innocent personality so that they would not suspect her of writing the letters. Therefore, from the contrasting feelings that Adela shows in public and in her letters, she can be described as deceitful.
Based on Adela’s different actions, interactions, and words that she switches depending on her surroundings, she comes across as a self-righteous, overprotective, and deceiving woman. In the end, the reason Miss Strangeworth sends anonymous letters is that she believes it is the right thing to do. In her mind, she is a superhero that eliminates the darkness in her town. In reality, the darkness is herself. Adela never considers if sending anonymous letters with insults is acceptable or not. She thinks that people will be grateful for her letters because she believes so. It is important to have self-confidence, but not to the point that it leads one to feel convinced that everyone else is always wrong.