The Bad Seed by Maxwell Anderson is a dramatic play taken place in 1954 in the urban part of New York City. The Penmark’s house is a well furnished and expensive home. With a good size kitchen, several bedrooms and a spacious backyard it is perfect for eight year old Rhoda Penmark and her mother Christine.
Christine Penmark keeps her house clean and Rhoda too makes sure everything is in order especially when it comes to her bedroom. They also have a gardener, Leroy who lives in the basement and through out the day he tends to the garden and other things required. Although the house is big, it has only two occupants with occasionally Mr. Penmark coming home for a few days when off military duty, the house seems quite empty and forlorn.
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The play opens with Mr. Penmark leaving again on military duty. He has just received orders to come back immediately and he must leave. There is a feeling of sadness as Rhoda bounces into the room to bid her father farewell, asking when he’ll come back. Not sure when he’ll be back he hugs Christine and affectionately pulls Rhoda’s pigtails. That same day, young Rhoda expresses her disappointment in losing the penmanship medal to a classmate, Claude Daigle to Monica the Penmark’s landlord. Monica is also Christine’s best friend and absolutely loves Rhoda and admires her angelic ways. She gives Rhoda a necklace. It is a special day for Rhoda as there is going to be a school picnic near the wharf and she leaves for school.
While Rhoda is at school Christine has guest over by the name of Reginald Tasker at the house and they talk about Bessie Denker the famous serial killer. He also informs Christine that her Bessie’s youngest daughter is the only one surviving. During the conversation the radio is turned on and the host announces the drowning of a child at the wharf. Christine is panic-stricken thinking it could be Rhoda, however the worst passes and she hears it is a young boy named Claude Daigle. Mrs. Penmark worries Rhoda will be affected deeply by the death of one of her classmates however when Rhoda returns home she shrugs the news off and acts quite strangely, puzzling her mother. Christine tries to explain to her daughter that death is a part of life but Rhoda quickly changes the topic asking for a peanut butter sandwich. Alarmed, still Mrs. Penmark allows her to go outside and skate while she eats her snack. At this point it is obvious that Rhoda has no remorse and the gardener Leroy asks her how she could be happy when somebody as young as her drowned. Rhoda replies with a cutting remark and skates off leaving Leroy disgusted with her behavior.
Upon returning from her skating, Rhoda sits down in front of the piano and practices when there is a knock at the door. It is a lady from Rhoda’s school who wishes to speak to Mrs. Penmark alone. With Rhoda asked to leave Christine finds out that Rhoda was the last one to see Claude Daigle alive and she was seen snatching the penmanship medal from him. Christine is shocked to hear this and wonders why Rhoda didn’t mention that she was the last to see Claude alive. After the lady leaves, Monica arrives at Christine’s house asking to see the necklace again so she can get it polished from a store nearby. Mrs. Penmark goes to Rhoda’s room and opens her “treasure drawer” to get the necklace but to her surprise she finds the penmanship medal in the drawer. After giving the necklace to Monica she calls Rhoda to her and asks about the medal. At first Rhoda is surprised to find that her mother has found the medal and Christine demands and explanation. Rhoda says that she had a bet with Claude Daigle and since she won, she got the penmanship medal. She gives a convincing answer to her mother and is then sent to her room.
Later that night, Rhoda sneaks out of her room with a small paper bag behind her back. Her mother catches her and asks her what it is. When Rhoda refuses, Christine wrestles Rhoda and grabs it out of her hand. She finds Rhoda’s shoes with blood on it and then Christine puts the pieces together. She finds out that Rhoda lied about the bet and Rhoda admits to hitting Claude with her shoes and snatching the medal. Mrs. Penmark is utterly shocked and realizes her daughter has not only killed Claude but she also killed an old neighbor they had. Rhoda is frightened that something will happen to her and Mrs. Penmark promises nothing will and she asks Rhoda to throw the shoes down the incinerator.
Still not being able to come to terms with what her daughter has done, Christine bitterly cries in the kitchen. Rhoda goes about her usual business and has no emotion in her. Later, Christine is excited to hear that her father is in town and is coming to visit her and Rhoda. Her father is Richard Bravo who also worked on the Bessie Denker case. Richard Bravo arrives one night and Christine is extremely excited to see him and in return she is showered with hugs and kisses.
However the night takes its own course, relieving secrets that were too painful to be secrets anymore. Christine learns she is adopted and she tells her father that she keeps having the same dream over and over again. It’s a dream where she is alone and she keeps hearing the name Denker repeatedly. Mrs. Penmark learns that her mother was Bessie Denker and Bessie was Rhoda’s grandmother. Richard apologizes for not letting her know earlier and tells her that Christine was irresistible to leave alone. Mrs. Penmark finally figures out that Rhoda’s behavior crimes are genetic. She still is not able to tell anyone what her daughter has done.
After the departure of Richard Bravo, Rhoda plays outside in the backyard enjoying her self. Leroy continuously taunts her saying that he knows she killed Claude Daigle with her shoes and that Leroy will report Rhoda to the police. Leroy also mentions that he has the shoes. Frightened and scared, Rhoda demands that he gives back the shoes. She screams at him and Leroy tries to calm her down by saying he was only taunting her and that he doesn’t have the shoes. But still Rhoda yells at him demanding the shoes and at this point Leroy starts to believe that Rhoda really did kill Claude. Mrs. Penmark walks into the backyard at the time when Rhoda is yelling at Leroy. She questions Rhoda about what is happening and Rhoda mentions that Leroy has the shoes that she used to kill Claude. Christine quickly rushes Rhoda up the front steps and into in the house and tells Leroy to never talk to Rhoda again.
Leroy goes back to his basement and opens the incinerator and sees that the shoes are there with blood stains on it. He is shocked thinking that he was only making a joke when he said that Rhoda had killed her classmate. Upstairs in the house Mrs. Daigle arrives drunk, asking if she could talk to Rhoda. Christine tries to calm Mrs. Daigle down and asks Monica to take Rhoda away. Mrs. Daigle knows that Rhoda was the last one to see her boy and only wishes to ask her what happened. Mr. Daigle then arrives to pick up his wife and apologizes for his wife’s behavior.
Monica visits Christine at her home and Rhoda starts to leave the house with a box of matches in her house. However Christine sees this and asks Rhoda to leave the matches behind and Rhoda obeys. She leaves the box of matches on the table but sneaks three matches. All of a sudden Monica and Christine hear screaming and smoke coming from the basement. They realize that Leroy has been burned alive and it was his screams that were heard. Rhoda returns and Christine immediately realizes that her daughter had killed him. Monica leaves and later that night Rhoda tells her mother that burned Leroy because he threatened to tell the police about her shoes, being scared of getting caught she killed him.
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At night Mrs. Penmark tells Rhoda that she dropped the medal in the lake and she also asks her to take some “new” vitamins. Rhoda first asks to look at them and then she gulps it down. What she doesn’t know is that her mother has given her sleeping pills. Christine continues to read to Rhoda and slowly Rhoda falls asleep on the living room couch. Before carrying Rhoda to her bedroom Christine whispers that she loves her daughter and she must save her even though she committed terrible crimes. Mrs. Penmark then goes into her own bedroom and shoots herself.
At the hospital Mr. Penmark is anxious to know why Christine would do such a thing and he breaks down. Monica and her husband wait at the hospital and urge Mr. Penmark to take Rhoda home as she must be tired. Mr. Penmark tucks Rhoda into bed but what he doesn’t know is that she won’t be in there for long. After Rhoda’s father leaves her room she quickly gets dressed, grabs a flashlight and runs to the lake to find the penmanship medal. Outside there is a strong storm with loud thunder and bright lightning. Rhoda arrives at the lake looking for the medal when a flash of lightning hits her. She dies as Christine is recovering in a local hospital.
The theme of the play revolved around Rhoda being a sociopath and that her behavior was genetic. She had no repentance or emotion for any of the crimes she committed and was oblivious to her own actions. The main conflict in the play is that she felt that she deserved the penmanship medal and when it is given to Claude Daigle, a classmate, Rhoda feels angry. She will do anything to get that medal, even kill. The conflict is resolved when Rhoda goes on a school trip, she hits Claude Daigle with her shoes repeatedly on the head and snatches the medal from him. She feels no shame in her excessive greediness and what she has to do to achieve her goal.
The two main characters in the play are Rhoda Penmark and her mother Christine Penmark. Rhoda was a young girl of eight years old. She had developed maturity at a much faster rate than her peers. Rhoda was able to manipulate her mother and make convincing arguments and explanations for her actions. She loved being read bed time stories from her mother. However Rhoda was also very cunning and had an answer for everything. Her dressing style consisted of dresses and pinned up hair in braids. She had certain ways of charming everyone especially Monica, the landlord lady. Christine Penmark was the mother of Rhoda and a young woman under her thirties. She was lonesome at times when her husband would be gone for military duties. Christine was a calm and gentle person. She was very much devoted to her family and always thought of Rhoda before herself. In other words she was a very selfless lady especially when she was able to give herself up so nobody would hurt Rhoda.
The character that really touched my emotion was Christine Penmark, Rhoda’s mother. This is because she is a woman who is strong internally and externally. She battles with the fact that her daughter is a killer but her own child. Though she is hopeless with her daughter being a sociopath she still accepts her and loves her all the same. Christine is also courageous in trying to take her own life to save her daughter’s. Rhoda is also reminded that she will not be hurt even though Christine really does fear for her life.
If I could play any character from this play it would be Rhoda’s character. Rhoda’s character experiences a lot of emotions and mood swings. It would be a difficult and challenging character to play as I am the total opposite of her. She has an interesting twist of traits. Rhoda also shifts into different personalities especially when in tricky situations.
One of the good points in the play was that it was a convincing play. It really showed the love for a daughter who committed terrible crimes but was still accepted. It showed the emotions of a struggling and lonesome mother. Mothers around the world could relate to situations like Christine Penmark was in. Rhoda was also a convincing character which portrays that she is a sociopath. Today in this world there are many like her who too can understand to what she was going through. The bad point in this story was that the father was not around at all to find out about the situation at home. Maybe if he was around then they could have gotten Rhoda help and she wouldn’t have taken the lives of others.
The play definitely kept my interest because it was a dramatic one with high emotions. It was one that you could understand and realize that things like that happen even today in real life. It was also awareness to the audience that sociopaths are also caused by genes. It would be nice to see ‘The Bad Seed’ performed and see how well somebody can play Rhoda’s and Christine’s character. It also would be interesting to find out if the actors would leave out any parts of the real play or if they would use the exact dialogue Maxwell Anderson used when writing the play.
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