Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Forgiveness

By Lionel Shriver

Forgiveness

(And Franklin, I was [a bad mother]. I was terrible at it. I wonder if you can ever forgive me.) (7.12)

In this aside, Eva asks forgiveness, for the first time. Notice that she's asking only her husband here. She doesn't really care what others think of her.

Giles decided that his family would spend the holiday with his in-laws instead. I could choose to feel injured, and I do miss my brother if only as someone with whom to mock my mother, but she's getting so frail now at seventy-eight that our patronizing despair on her behalf seems unfair. (11.1)

Here we get our first hint that forgiveness, at least for people like Eva, might be rooted in exhaustion. She's too tired to hold a grudge against her mother, so she begins to forgive her.

For years I wrote off my mother as having no grasp of my life, but after Thursday I came to terms with the fact that I'd made no effort to understand hers. (11.4)

One necessary element to forgiveness is empathy. Eva is able to be more understanding of her mother when she attempts to empathize with her, even if that means she might—*shudder*—become more like her own mother in the process.

"It's hard to be a momma." (15.44)

Loretta Greenleaf, a fellow mother at the prison, is the first person we see forgive Eva. Because Eva chooses to share this information with Franklin in one of her letters, we can see that it's a powerful experience for her.

"Just cause you get used to something doesn't mean you like it." he added, snapping the magenta. "You're used to me." (18.78)

According to Kevin, perhaps we just get used to a person, thought, or concept and become at peace with it as a result. Does that equal forgiveness, for real? Or is it really just passivity?

Honestly, when Carol Reeves formally "forgave" our son on CNN for murdering her boy, Jeffrey […] I had no idea what she was talking about. Had she built a box around Kevin in her head, knowing that only rage dwelled there; was our son now simply a place her mind refused to go? (19.18)

Eva attempts to use metaphorical language to describe what forgiveness looks like in the brain. Is she effective in her description? What metaphors would you use to describe what it feels like to forgive a person?

"You want me to feel sorry for you? […] We'll see if there's any pity left over for you. There just might be, but it's the scraps of my table you're due, and for scraps you should count yourself lucky." (20.105)

Is Kevin asking for pity, or is he asking for forgiveness? What's the difference between the two? Eva seems to imply that her capacity for pity is finite. Would the same apply to her ability to forgive?

Was this what it looked like inside his head? Or was the room, too, a kind of a screen saver? (24.134)

Eva starts a brief journey into trying to empathize with Kevin here, as she has attempted to empathize with her own mother. Does this help her on her road to forgiveness? Could you forgive someone like Kevin once you learned what his life was like?

Surely it makes a travesty of the exercise to forgive the unrepentant, and I speak for myself as well. (25.3)

Is this true? Is forgiveness more for the person doing the forgiving or for the person being forgiven? And whichever it is, does it work if the person doesn't want to be forgiven?

After three days short of eighteen years, I can finally announce that I am too exhausted and too confused and too lonely to keep fighting, and if only out of desperation or even laziness, I love my son. (28.73)

Eva finally reaches forgiveness, or her form of it, for Kevin in the book's final paragraph. Are you surprised she reached this point emotionally?