Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Guilt and Blame

By Lionel Shriver

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Guilt and Blame

You make me feel bad; feeling bad makes me mad; ergo, you make me mad. […] So I blamed me, and he blamed me. (4.19)

This quote early in the book is a good introduction to the reasons for blame. Kevin ignores Eva and makes her feel bad. Therefore, she gets mad at Kevin. She blames him for problems in her own life, and he blames her for treating him coldly. It's a cycle.

"It's too late for second thoughts. Never, ever tell me that you regret our own kid." (6.80)

Franklin shames Eva into not voicing regrets, which makes her internalize them and feel guilty about them. Society already expects mothers to love their children unconditionally, and Franklin reinforces this. The guilt only makes this regret worse.

I seem to be laying the groundwork for claiming that Kevin is all my fault. […] Blame confers an awesome power. […] Blame conveys clear lessons in which others may take comfort: if only she hadn't—, and by implication makes tragedy avoidable. (7.4)

This is the root of Eva's conflict. Is she to blame for Kevin's actions? As she says here, taking the blame gives her a sort of power. Without blame, she is powerless.

Of course, just because I can't manage to swallow all the blame doesn't mean that others won't heap it on me anyway, and I'd have been glad to provide a useful receptacle if I thought the heaping did them any good. (7.6)

Here is a continuation of the last quote. It shows the small amount of power Eva derives from taking on blame, even if it is the power of a martyr, a power that does no one any good.

I felt guilty, infected by Mary Woolford's consuming conviction that someone must be to blame. […] Kevin had proven defective, and I was the manufacturer. (13.45)

There is a human need to pin the blame for Kevin's heinous crime—and other crimes like it—on someone, and that blame often falls onto the killer's mother.

"Remorse? […] What could he conceivably regret? Now he's somebody, isn't he?" (15.33)

Eva believes that Kevin feels no guilt for what he did. That certainly seems true from how we see him in the book. But we see Kevin only through Eva's eyes—is it possible he feels any guilt or regret? If so, for what?

Why, after all I have borne, am I held accountable for ordering their chaos? (15.37)

As time goes on, Eva feels the weight of all the blame that has been heaped upon her, and we see a new side of blame. One reason people blame someone else is so that they can then expect that person to fix the situation—even if it's unfixable.

"I need to know. Do you blame me?"

[…] "Why should you get all the credit?" (15.67-15.68)

Kevin resents the fact that Eva should get any blame, but not in a selfless way. Kevin wants all the blame for his crime. He considers it his "credit" for doing the deed.

I had to admit that Kevin hadn't personally wiped out my company's files, and the debacle was my fault. (24.139)

This seems fairly logical. Perhaps this scene is included to show us that Eva is capable of taking the blame for something that is clearly her fault. However, there is nothing clear about the issue with Kevin.

I have a confession to make: For all my ragging on you in these days, I've become shamefully dependent on television. (26.1)

One recurring motif is Eva's hypocrisy, and here we see her watching TV, even though she used to make Franklin feel guilty about watching it all the time. Hey, it gives her a wealth of pop culture references to choose from, too.

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