We Need to Talk About Kevin We Need to Talk About Kevin discussion


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Sick or evil? Nature or nurture?

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Ariel The way everyone blamed Eva was such a cop out!(although I guess I understand the grieving people needed to place blame somewhere) Being a less than perfect mother or being unsure of wanting a child before getting pregnant isn't the same as putting those arrows in his hand and sending him to school to kill people. I agree that Eva was the only one who seemed to know exactly who Kevin was and I think that alone made her a better mother than most.


Christoff Youngman Eva didn't have a clue about who Kevin was, the book was just an attempt to get out of being blamed for her poor parenting. You can't treat a child as though it's evil then be surprised when he grows up to believe it himself.


message 53: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin W Psst, everyone: I think Christoff might be Kevin.


Christoff Youngman Maybe in another reality :p I'm just much more inclined to call Kevin's massacre as a result of nurture rather than nature (though that's not to say Eva doesn't deserve sympathy for the horrible things in her own life).


message 55: by epat (new) - rated it 5 stars

epat I have a friend who has children; at the beginning of the book, she blamed Eva, but at the end she thought it was a combination of things--and in fact blamed the husband more. I don't even know anymore if Shriver meant to blame someone or just wanted people to TALK ABOUT KEVIN!! And for us to think about what goes into making such a kid.


message 56: by Eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric Lister Barbara wrote: "Could it be Eva who never really wanted to be a mom?"

i think that he hesitation to be a mother stemmed from an innate foreknowledge of the evil she would birth upon the world

if she was excited about it, the novel would have had two Franklins!


message 57: by Victoria (new)

Victoria Pearson I think that the important thing to remember in this book is that the narrator is unreliable. Eva is looking back at Kevin's childhood through the prism of what he has done. I think the letters to Franklin are a way of trying to find some sort of reason or blame, and in writing them she may over-play the significance of some things. The map thing for example - he was only a toddler when he did that wasn't he? He wouldn't have had much concept of emotional significance, or irreparable damage at that age, it was just normal toddler behaviour.
We must remember as well that we don't get to hear Franklin's version of events. Eva has an outsiders view of his relationship with Kevin, she doesn't see what goes on with Franklin and Kevin when they are alone and she doesn't really know how either feels about the other. Eva paints a portrait of herself as quite a cold mother, but her assessment is coloured by Kevin's crime and her need to find the reason for it. Perhaps Franklin would disagree with Eva's version of events in that regard too.

I think a number of things led to Kevin becoming who he was. Perhaps he was a sociopath, who had no concept of other people's suffering, doing it for attention. Perhaps he wanted to shock a reaction out of his mother. Perhaps it was the gradual build up of a coldly indifferent mother who is warm and loving towards his sister, and an eager to please matey father who wanted him to be something he wasn't, bullying at school and a general cultural de-sensitisation to violence. I think the beauty of the novel is that it doesn't give clear cut answers.

But I think the turning point for me, when Kevin went from potentially misunderstood child to frightening young man was during the masturbation scene. It gave me the heebie-jeebies.


message 58: by Eric (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eric Lister Khaya wrote: "Was Kevin crazy, or was he wicked?"

i found the character of Kevin offered an opportunity for reflection on the dishonest nature of our relationships to our own parents.

We shrug our shoulders and say "you don't choose your family" but in my experience we do not often reflect upon the limited vocabulary we are allowed in our developmental years in which we must have daily interaction with people who have both a huge investment in what becomes of us, and also are either legally or socially culpable for our behavior.

We see two polar reactions to the stifiling existence that is childhood from kevin, a wholly oppositional reaction to his mother, and a wholly accommodating reaction to his father.

neither of these extremes seem to tell us anything of kevin's true nature, and in this way the book suggests that kevin's struggle is universal, that any manifestation of "nurture" suffocates the soul, we see parents who seem to reap only what they sow, an untreatable dissatisfaction with eva, and a shallow, congenial excitement surrounding meaningless activities with franklin

most of what we are presented with regarding kevin seems to be done for show. We have no personal moments with kevin, only descriptions of his reactions to his parent's behavior


message 59: by Kirk (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kirk There is a certain number of people who are born sociopaths. Kevin is one of those.


Minnie Kirk wrote: "There is a certain number of people who are born sociopaths. Kevin is one of those."

Jonathan Kellerman wrote a very interesting book about this concept of being born evil. It's called "Savage Spawn" and is well worth the read.


message 62: by Beth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth Ariel wrote: "The way everyone blamed Eva was such a cop out!(although I guess I understand the grieving people needed to place blame somewhere) Being a less than perfect mother or being unsure of wanting a chil..."

I agree. I initially did not like Ava and she was a pretty selfish young mother but as the story progressed I liked her and felt great sympathy for what she was having to endure. Fascinating but painful story .... book is much better than the movie.


message 63: by Cindy (last edited Dec 30, 2013 12:59PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Cindy I read this book some time ago and don't remember the details of the story line, but I do remember thinking initially that Eva was an incredibly unlikable, selfish young mother and that young children pick up on their mothers' feelings so easily. Her dislike for him and motherhood in general would have been transmitted to him through tone of voice, body language, etch. One of my daughters was quite difficult, though not to Kevin's level of course, and I could relate to Eva's frustration but not to her actions. I think people are born with natural inclinations and some are evil, but her behaviors surely helped shape his future personality. Then as Kevin grew all I could think is "why isn't he getting counseling for God's sake?". Someone else in this thread wrote that Franklin was trying to undo the damage Eva did and I agree, but some intensive therapy and maybe meds would have been much more effective ways for Franklin to help his son if any help was to be had.
I had to sympathize with Franklin a little bit though - he was caught between his love for his wife and his love for his son. And when you have a child with issues, sometimes love is all you have to offer. I think Franklin was offering all he thought he had.
To consider counseling or other psychiatric help Franklin would've had to be able to see how disturbed his son was, and he obviously couldn't admit that to himself.


Lobstergirl 99% nature - although there was also bad parenting. But the parenting wasn't so bad that it would cause a kid to become a killer.

If your kid is a sociopath, there is brain chemistry that makes it so. There are real life child sociopaths getting psychological treatment - which is probably the only way they can be turned around, although there are no guarantees even with the best treatment. Parents are not going to be able to change their sociopathic children just with an extra hug or a well-meaning conversation. Normal children can be motivated with hugs and good parenting - sociopathic children, not so much.


Amber Goodwin A really interesting read.I find it incredibly difficult to come down exclusively on the nature or nurture side of the debate with this one.There seems also multiple points of blame.Eva,who suffers an ambivalent relationship with her own mother undoubtedly has her issues to deal with and her treatment of Kevin is in my opinion sometimes abusive.Franklin too smothers Eva and Kevin, his non committal attitude towards his daughter perhaps symptomatic of his complete refusal to accept a family set up anything outside of the 'norm'.Kevin too is an ambivalent character:Eva's unreliable narration makes it impossible to discern his true personality or intentions.I think the book basically considers that we all perhaps need to recognise our own discordance with society and its expectations in order to recognise and hopefully change things for the better before it is too late. For me,the book has an interesting apocolyptic feel to it,similar to Coup lands' 'Hey Nostradamus',also about a school shooting or McCarthy's The Road.


message 66: by Dewdrops (new)

Dewdrops first off, i've only seen the movie recently and haven't read the book yet. as it for me, i dont believe that anyone is purely born evil, maybe he/she has a difficult personalities/traits but not evil. as a baby, Kevin didnt know what he needed, and so Eva. and Franklin didnt give much help either. They were not-so-good young parents to such a 'demanding' baby.
in other way, there's also something that keeps bugging me about Eva throughout the movie (i think it only show once? in the scene where Eva and Kevin driving home from the doctor) Eva cant seems to apologize properly and rather use the 'third person' as she said:

"What mommy did was very, very wrong, and she is so, so sorry."

is this a hint or glimpse that maybe, maybe Eva was suffering some kind of mental disorder, too? that she had a hard time everytime she needs to face the truth, she run to her shell and push her imaginary friend? i dont think i describe this well enough though, but i hope this can picture the idea.


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Books mentioned in this topic

We Need to Talk About Kevin (other topics)
The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success (other topics)