Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Setting

By Lionel Shriver

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The United States in the 1990s and 2001

The novel is set specifically in New York State, but that doesn't matter. What does matter is the social and political climate of the entire United States during the two time periods of the book: the past setting of the mid- to late-1990s when Kevin commits his crime (April 8, 1999 to be exact) and the 2001 Bush/Gore election of the present timeline, when Eva is dealing with the consequences. The book isn't just about New York or Eva's home; it's about America itself.

The Right to Bear Arms

As much as Eva dislikes aspects of the United States, she's always considered it a safe place. That changes in the mid-1990s, when a rash of school shootings happen, for example in Pearl, Mississippi and Columbine, Colorado. This time in U.S. history was characterized by confusion and fear. Schools tried to crack down on students labeled as outcasts, students were strip-searched, rights were violated, gun control was discussed. The kids who committed these crimes blamed their experience of being bullied, they blamed their parents, or they blamed society itself.

But Eva has one big issue: "One of the things I can't stand about this country is lack of accountability" (26.8). Okay, but who is accountable when you have no idea who's to blame?

Kevin wants to take full accountability for his crime, which should be admirable in his mother's eyes. He even uses a freakin' crossbow instead of a gun to keep the gun control debate out of it. But that doesn't make the situation any simpler.

Hanging Chads

The political climate of the United States in 2001 eerily mimics Eva and Franklin's marriage. During the Bush/Gore election, the country reached a stalemate. No one knew who the president would be, and neither side wanted to compromise. Sound familiar?

This isn't the America Franklin believed in, or even the America Eva thought it was. As we've said, she always thought America was a safe place—until Kevin destroyed her illusions. As much as Eva disliked Kevin, she never thought he would commit the crime that he did. It just couldn't happen right at home like that: "This was America," she thought. "And you had done everything right. Ergo, this could not be happening" (27.166).

But it does happen, and it happens to her. Eva "always regarded the United States as a place to leave" (4.9). Now she's trapped there.

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