Study Guide

Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin

By Lionel Shriver

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Eva Khatchadourian

Let's Give Them Something to Talk About

We're unsure if we'd ever want to hang out with Eva Khatchadourian. And not because her son is a cold-blooded killer, either. We might not want to hang out with her at any time, from when she when she was a childless to when she was pregnant to when she was the mother of a toddler.

Basically, Eva comes across as cold, uncaring, and aloof.

Of course, there's more to her than that, but bear with us here.

Eva didn't decide to have a child at 37 on a whim, but it still seems like she didn't do it for the right reasons. Some of her early rationales include the following:

  • "To have something else to talk about" (2.98)
  • "It might be fun to start a collection" (2.78)
  • "The very insurmountability of the task, its very unattractiveness, was in the end what attracted me to it" (3.40)
  • "I wanted to have someone to miss [my husband] alongside" (5.13)

These seem like very selfish reasons to pop one out, don't they? Yeah, that's another word we could use to categorize Eva at times: selfish. She is jealous of her husband's relationship with her son, because she wants Franklin all to herself. Because she is of Armenian descent, she thinks that this makes her and her name "more important" (6.40) than her husband and his name. Is this patriotic pride in her heritage, or is it just selfishness?

Now, Eva's selfishness can be a benefit to her, sort of. As she says, "Sheer obstinacy is far more durable than courage, though it's not as pretty" (7.25). Her unwillingness to compromise hurts her marriage, but it comes in handy when standing up for herself after Kevin slaughters his classmates.

The Eva is in the Details

One way to get to know someone is through his or her writing. We don't recommend cracking into your best friend's diary, though, because you might not like what you read. But there's one thing you're sure to find: the truth.

We think that Eva writes the truth in her letters to her dead husband, Franklin. Why would she lie? He's dead. He's not going to argue with her anymore. Her letters give us insight into her true personality, and we get to see what lies beneath her frosty exterior.

One emotion soon becomes clear: fear. Isn't fear something we all try to cover up, either by hiding or by putting on a brave or obstinate face? Seeing that Eva is afraid—of losing her husband, of having a child, of leaving the house—humanizes her a bit. It's her fear of having a child that is the most hidden of her fears, because that isn't a fear that is acceptable to share in society. People think you're weird if you don't want kids.

Eva thinks of motherhood the way she thinks of traveling to a different country: "a strange land" (8.18). And since she founded a travel company called A Wing and a Prayer, she "always made it a policy [...] to face what I feared" (1.35). But adult fears are very different from teenage and young adult fears of travel, and the dangers in having a child, especially an evil one like Kevin, don't compare to travel difficulties like exchanging currency or losing your passport. Eva probably wishes she could lose Kevin in a foreign country, but she can't.

Who Are We Talking About?

We saved Eva's relationship with her sociopathic son, Kevin, for last. Despite being titled We Need to Talk About Kevin, the book actually takes its sweet time getting to Kevin.

Now, it's easy to write off Kevin as a sociopath. These days, most of us have some idea what a sociopath is. But each sociopath is a bit different, and being related to one presents its own special set of challenges. So what we want to talk about here is Eva and Kevin's relationship. All the terrible things that happen—murder, abuse, squirt guns—are readily apparent in the book. But what about the positive things that come out of this relationship?

… Do we hear crickets?

Okay, saying "things" plural might be stretching it, but one positive thing to come out of Eva's relationship with her son, even if it may not seem like it to her at the time, is that Kevin calls Eva out on her hypocrisy. All those annoying things we called Eva out for at the top of this page? He throws them at her, to her face.

Kevin's actually right about Eva, sort of. She really is a hypocrite. When Kevin and Eva have dinner, for example, he starts small, asking her things like this: "I don't get why you celebrate Christmas when you aren't a Christian" (22.25). But this quickly escalates into him asking her why she thinks she's better than everyone else. "You never talk about Americans as 'we' […] It's always 'they.' Like you'd talk about the Chinese or something" (24.9).

Well, that's true. As a sociopath, Kevin wants to prove that he's better than everybody else. Eva doesn't take things to such extremes, but really, doesn't she want the same thing?

Eva doesn't instantly change. In fact, she might not change at all. Her letters still have an air of superiority to them. But she's definitely thinking about herself, which is a start. If Kevin didn't take her to task, her letters might not be so introspective. Whether Kevin did it out of spite or out of tough love is up for debate. (Um, probably spite.) But perhaps it's the result that matters.

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