Representations of Motherhood

Motherhood in a Novel: "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

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Author: Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver’s Novel “ We need to talk about Kevin” is completely centered on the extreme dark sides to motherhood and all the challenges that come with it. Most of the story is compiled of letters that are directed to her husband who has disappeared from their life. She is trying to make sense of what happened with their son Kevin, who became the focus of one of the first mass shootings at a high school. When thinking about how Eva was portrayed in this novel, the word that first comes to my mind is dead. She seems completely and utterly dead inside and is lifeless from the moment she had kids. She was thirty-seven when she got pregnant with Kevin, and even then was unsure if she wanted to be pregnant. She didn’t like anything about it; the stares, the change in her body, and all that comes with being pregnant made her uncomfortable. Her husband Franklin was very excited about the process, and this annoyed her also. Although she thought that children could possibly bring her happiness, in the back of her mind, she was very skeptical, and her parenting was doomed from the start of the book. No mother can even fathom going through what Eva had to endure when her son was the one that committed the crime to killing 15 people and wounded 27 others at Columbine High School. The thing about it is, Eva had given up on life before her son even committed this massacre. In the beginning of the book, Eva talks about how she struggled through pregnancy and in fact, she had no more luck bonding with Kevin as an infant or toddler. When Kevin was born, neither him nor Eva had any kind of special tie to one another although the dad was always very excited about finally being a father. He makes excuses for everything Kevin does, and in front of Franklin, Kevin continues to put on an act of innocence. Eva is portrayed as extremely depressed and fearful. She lost her job obviously because of lawsuits that happened during her sons shooting, and this didn’t help the situation at all. She didn’t know who she was, and yet, she was being blamed for everything that had happened with her son. When she visits Kevin in jail it talks about how their time together was completely filled with “uncaring moments and awkward silences” meaning neither of them had any interest in forming a relationship after everything that had happened. Most of the letters that she was writing to her husband Franklin is her talking about Kevin’s childhood and all the events she tried to remember leading up to his shooing. I noticed a similar pattern in all of the letters and it was apparent that she was just so confused and lost about the incident that happened.

She was also portrayed as insecure. Her husband Franklin seemed to have a lot of influence such as what her child was going to be named, where they were going to live (he wanted to move to Connecticut to the suburbs so that’s what they did), and how their life was going to be together. Later in the book, it caught me by surprise because Eva confronts Franklin about having another child. It is hard to imagine that anyone would want to have another kid after the horrific struggle that went on with Kevin, and even Franklin, who at the beginning was so excited about being a dad, thought Eva was nothing short of crazy. Eva decide to not use any form of protection, and eventually they got pregnant with a little girl name Cecilia. Cecilia made life easy on Eva because she was so much more loving. She reminded Eva of why she wanted to have kids in the first place; she was her prodigy child and measured up to all of her expectations, unlike Kevin.

I used words like depressed, fearful, insecure, confused, lost to describe Eva mainly because this was an incredibly dark novel. Not a lot of it was focused around happy times, which you would expect in the life of any family. The author pointed out that in fact, after years of living in their house, it was stark and impersonal….as if they had just moved in. There was no warmth. The book puts the microscope on the mom of the son who committed a crime. There is an intense need by not only Eva, but the readers as well, to understand what caused him to get to the point of being the perpetrator of such a horrific crime. It truly captures all the challenges moms have to face, Eva, more than most moms, appeared to be raising her kids normally, but in fact was in a deep battle of depression. She originally just thought that her life would be normal with Franklin. There were many emotional ups and downs, but nothing could prepare her for the day Kevin killed those innocent students. When you are a mom going through something this severe, it is often hard to even wrap your brain around all of it. In fact we see that Eva was so lost throughout this novel, and conclude that in part this was because she truly could never grasp who she was, much less who her children were.

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Final Scene

“It's far less important to me to be liked these days than to be understood.”

Scene from "We need to talk about Kevin"