The story concerns an ex-convict Harry Powell who misrepresents himself as a prison chaplain upon his release from prison. Acting on a story told to him by his now-dead cellmate, “Reverend” Powell cons the cellmate’s widow into marrying him in hopes that her children will tell him where their father hid the money from his last robbery. After killing their mother, Willa Harper, he embarks on a hunt for the children, who have sensed his evil and are running from him.
Grubb explores the presentation of the American South during the Great Depression. He uses tropes of the Southern Gothic genre to explore issues such as social corruption and instability. The figure of the Preacher is a symbol of the corruptive social force of religion in the American South, while the disruption of the family unit emphasizes the broken sense of Southern identity after the War.