‘Error Bred in the Bone’: The Bad Seed | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 6, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2040-3275
  • E-ISSN: 2040-3283



This article examines William March’s The Bad Seed ([1954] 1997), an American naturalist novel about a violent serial killer, 8-year-old Rhoda Penmark, and its film adaptation, Mervyn LeRoy’s The Bad Seed (1956). When read as a hypotextual narrative, March’s The Bad Seed has multiple, significant intertextual variations, such as Ruben’s film The Good Son (1993) and Collet-Serra’s film, Orphan (2009), which focus on the theme of the biological, non-supernatural child serial killer. These films should be read critically as products of the materialistdeterminist philosophy of Emile Zola’s modernist notion of natural, quasi-scientific causalities leading to criminality: genetic malfunctions in action. This article also suggests LeRoy’s film adaptation is more appropriately viewed as a re-interpretation of Maxwell Anderson’s popular stage horror-melodrama, Bad Seed, produced in New York, 1954. In particular, ‘Error Bred in the Bone’: The Bad Seed examines the appropriation of the monster-child by popular culture. From the living room, to the dollhouse, and to the hospital bed, bad seeds liberally germinate.


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  • Article Type: Article
Keyword(s): affect theory; genetics; naturalism; Orphan; The Bad Seed; violence
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