March seems to come down on the side of genetics, but the way he characterizes the individual presentation of evil informs the other accounts. He is, after all, concerned with how to identify evil before it strikes and describes this trait in Rhoda as “being so cool, so impersonal about things that bother others.” Throughout the novel he makes clear that the trait of the “bad seed” consigns humans to lack warmth, empathy, curiosity. As Christine and her husband reckon with just how bad their little girl is, they take to calling it “the Rhoda reaction.”
The good German
Under cover of a frightening American-gothic tale exposing the horror lurking beneath the facade of post-war suburban tranquility, March also explored the realm of international politics. No reader in the 1950s could entertain a discussion of how human beings can inflict horrific suffering on others without being constantly mindful of the Holocaust and the bombing of Hiroshima. In 1954, these events were still visceral in the American imagination, inextricable from any discussion of human nature.
March’s biography — he was raised Methodist — testifies to his near-obsession with evil and why it assumed such horrible world-historical form. As a soldier during World War I he was enmeshed in the horrors of war and suffered several nervous breakdowns, as well as continued bouts of hysteria throughout his life. He was also withdrawn and guarded in relationships — being a deeply closeted homosexual didn’t help — and wary of all human interaction. In the early 1930s, as an employee of the Waterman Steamship Corporation, March lived in Germany and saw the rise of Nazism firsthand. In his letters home he compared Hitler’s thugs to the Ku Klux Klan and noted in urgent tones the rise of virulent anti-Semitism, book burning, and the formation of the first concentration camps. He even detailed how the German political situation was pitting family members against one another. Certainly, as the author of Company K, a noted pacifist novel published in 1933 that is considered a classic of US war fiction, March understood intimately the dangers posed by Nazism. The genius of The Bad Seed is that March transferred his observations about the Third Reich to a horror story of the idealized American family — replete with the perfect, obedient child who, in both novel and film, bears an uncanny resemblance to the Hitler Youth. In The Bad Seed, March emphasizes the parallel by describing Rhoda’s hair in Teutonic fashion as “plaited precisely in two narrow braids which were looped back into two hangsman-nooses.”
While some critics in 1954 saw The Bad Seed as a nifty psychological thriller, many took it seriously as veiled social criticism. The critic for the New York Herald Tribune noted that “it is possible to read The Bad Seed as an allegory of our violent times, as a commentary on the bewilderment and helplessness of all men and women of average good will who find themselves face to face with pure evil, which is incomprehensible.” In light of World War II and all it uncovered, how else was The Bad Seed to be interpreted?
: News Features
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