Rhoda Penmark, upon whom The Bad Seed is based, suffers from an antisocial personality disorder. To the common person, she would be known as a psychopath or a sociopath. It can be hypothesized that Rhoda suffers from antisocial personality disorder because the motives to her crimes are for her own self-fulfillment.
The Bad Seed is an astounding account of an 8-year-old girl that suffers from antisocial personality disorder. Rhoda was a very intelligent and well-liked young girl. Although she did not interact with her peers, whom she frightened, she did well with adults. Rhoda was very charming, smart, and well mannered, everything that people thought she was, but her actions were all calculated.
Christine Penmark, Rhoda's very pretty and kind mother noticed that there was more to Rhoda's behavior. Christine thought: "What an actress Rhoda is. She knows exactly how to handle people when it's to her advantage to do so" (March 13). This quote exemplifies Rhoda's manipulative nature.
Although Christine thought Rhoda was [an actress, manipulative, whatever], she did not dig deep into it. It was not until the Fern sisters' annual picnic that Christine started to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Rhoda was sure she would win the penmanship award for improved writing, but Claude Daigle won the award because it was for most improved penmanship. A person that suffers from antisocial personality disorder usually has above-average intelligence, and they are master manipulators. These people also show no morals or emotions. Rhoda wanted to win the penmanship award - she felt she had deserved it most, more so than Claude Daigle. "'I don't see why Claude Daigle got the medal. It was mine. Everybody knew it was mine,' Rhoda said to her mother" (March 9).
An annual outing that the Fern Grammar School attended had ended in a tragedy. Coincidentally, the young Claude Daigle had accidentally drowned in the bay. Once Christine heard about the death, she rushed home to comfort her daughter, thinking she would be in grief over trauma she was exposed to. As her mother tried to comfort her, Rhoda said she did not feel disturbed in the least. Christine though, "She's so cool, so impersonal about things that bother others." (March 48) Rhoda had no emotion over the incident that took place that day, and never did, although she was the last to see Claude alive and had pointed out where the guards should look for his body.
The Fern sisters do not think that Rhoda Penmark is fit for their grammar school anymore because of her refusal to cooperate when she was asked about Claude's death. At this time, Christine receives a letter from Octavia Fern, which greatly upsets her. She wants to know what their reasoning is, so she meets with the Fern sisters. They explain to her what happened the day of Daigle's death, and that Rhoda was the last to see him alive, along with his medal (which became missing after his death.) Mrs. Daigle wants the medal dearly, to place it on her son at his burial. However, it was lost, so Rhoda is questioned about the location of the medal, and she denies that she was trying to snatch it from Claude. Christine starts to think that her daughter really did have something to do with the death of Claude. She then wanted to know information on psychopaths that before she had never had any interest in. For example, she starts to ask questions like, "When do such people start their careers? Did children ever commit murders, or was she correct in assuming that only grown people did such things?" (March 74)
Rhoda's first murder took place in Baltimore, when she was just seven. Mrs. Clara Post grew extremely attached to Rhoda. Strangely, older people always admired Rhoda, although children her own age disliked her. Rhoda admired the floating opal ball in Mrs. Post's apartment. "It's going to be yours someday, my love. I'm going to leave it to you in my will when I die - that much I solemnly promise . . . "(March 78-79) Mrs. Post and Rhoda were alone one day, and Mrs. Post somehow fell down the stairs and broke her neck. Rhoda told her mother and Mrs. Post's daughter that she had fallen trying to find a kitten, although the old woman hated cats. "She promised me the little glass ball when she died. It's mine now, isn't it?" (March 80). Rhoda pushed the old woman down the stairs, because she wanted the object that she would obtain through the woman's death. There was a very strong and simple motive behind Rhoda's action; she just did it to get something she wanted. She only did this for her own personal gain.
Christine stumbled over the medal in Rhoda's bedroom, after Rhoda had looked her in the eye and told her that she no idea of the whereabouts of the medal. "'Everything she told me about the medal is a lie,'" she thought. 'Everything. She had it all the time.'" (March 84) Christine began to wonder why Rhoda was the way she was, and why she was not like the other girls her age and how they are supposed to be. Reviewing the beginning of Rhoda's life up to the present, she had been given love and security, and she had never been neglected or spoiled. " . . . I don't understand her mind or character. I do not understand it" (March 85).
Christine thinks that it did not have much to do with her environment, but rather that it had to be something deeper. When Rhoda brought in the shoes with the taps, her mother knew exactly what happened with Claude Daigle. She knew everything. Rhoda confessed to the murder of Claude, and how she kicked him with her shoes. Christine was angry and confused. She wanted to punish Rhoda so much, but she brought herself together and only sent Rhoda to her room. Christine does not discipline Rhoda, which could be a cause of why Rhoda suffers from antisocial personality disorder in the first place.
Leroy, a bizarre and outlandish boy was cold, and imagined doing things that Rhoda did, but never pursued them physically. He thought Rhoda was smart like him. Leroy said many things about Rhoda. At first, he thought she was very smart, but he later changed his mind. He called her "the meanest girl ever," although he was just as mean to the other children as she was. He displayed a lot of projection in the things he said to and about Rhoda. "What you say about me, you're really saying it about yourself." (March 121). Leroy thought he was fairly smart, but it turned out the he was not smart enough. He tried to fool Rhoda into thinking he knew that she killed Claude Daigle by making up a story that had some truth, but not enough to scare Rhoda. Then he started talking about her shoes with the moon shaped taps on the bottom, the same shape as the bruises on Claude Daigle. He threatened to tell the police so she would be 'electrocuted by the electric chair'. Rhoda then proceeded to murder Leroy because she saw him as a great threat to her.
Christine had a theory that the root of the problem came from something deeper. She did research with Reginald's collection of serial murders. There was one in particular that caught her attention - the story of Bessie Denker, a mass murderer that killed her whole family. Christine found out her father Richard Bravo, a journalist, wrote about the Bessie Denker trials, but never mentioned it to her. As she was talking to Reginald about the Denker trial, he said there was only one living relative of Bessie Denker, the daughter. Coincidentally, the lost daughter was named Christine. At that instant, Christine realized the truth - the root of why Rhoda was the way she was. Christine thought to herself, "I know who I am now. I can't delude myself any longer." (March 162) Christine felt a guilt that she had passed on the "bad seed" gene to her daughter. Although Christine's mother was a famous psychopath, she was not. It skipped one generation, and had been passed on to her daughter - Rhoda. Heredity was not the entire reason for why Rhoda was the way that she was. She had to learn some of her actions. Rhoda's grandmother was a sociopath like Rhoda.
Christine did not want Rhoda to hurt people, and she wanted Rhoda to go die painlessly. Christine decided to take her own life, and the life of her offspring, Rhoda - the bad seed. Tricking Rhoda into taking numerous sleeping pills, Rhoda went to her room and took her own life as well. Eventually, Christine's friend Monica came up to find Christine dead.
Kenneth Penmark had no idea of what was going on the entire time, because the letters that Christine wrote to him were never sent. Rhoda was always going to be the way she was. She would have manipulated her father, just as she did to her mother and every other person she encountered. Once a psychopath, always a psychopath - there was no changing Rhoda Penmark.
Rhoda Penmark suffered from antisocial personality disorder. She fooled everyone around her, until her mother stumbled onto all of the clues. Rhoda was very intelligent, but she had no morals and showed no emotion. Many things could have contributed to her disorder. For example, since her grandmother was a sociopath, she inherited some of her psychopathic tendencies. In some aspects, Rhoda did inherit some of her "bad" genes, but she was missing discipline from her parents. There were many contributions but it comes down to the concept of nature versus nurture.
Freud thought that, in the sense of ones' genes, "Anatomy is Destiny," therefore, people are destined to be what they will be - our lives are preplanned. B.F. Skinner thought that people are born with no personality, and all personality is learned. Both of these theories are valid if they are combined using the middle ground.