Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Identity

By Lionel Shriver

Identity

When I stand physically proud, I feel a small measure less mortified. (1.5)

Eva seems to be an apostle of the ancient philosophy "fake it 'til you make it." Isn't a large part of everyone's identity how they act, and not necessarily how they feel on the inside?

Horribly I remind myself of my mother. (1.31)

This is a frightening realization for many people, and that allows a lot of us to sympathize with Eva, a woman who otherwise comes across as cold and hostile. Do you think Kevin ever had a similar revelation, that he too was like his mother? How would he react to this thought?

In horror and sci-fi, the host is consumed or rent, reduced to the husk or residue so that some nightmare creature may survive its shell. (6.23)

While pregnant, Eva identifies Kevin with a monster from a horror movie. No wonder she isn't attached to him when he's born. Would you be, if you thought your baby was going to burst out of your chest like an alien?

What had mortified me, what I had to flee, was that she sounded not only unfeeling and narcissistic but just like me. (7.15)

Eva experiences some strong cognitive dissonance after bumping into a former friend who had a baby. She has to confront the ugly parts of herself. But does she do anything with this new knowledge? Is Eva still unfeeling and narcissistic at the end of the novel?

Like most disguises, the cover-up was worse than honest flaw, a lesson I had yet to register on my own account. (12.52)

Here, Eva flouts her "fake it 'til you make it" philosophy. She believes that it's more important to put forward an authentic face than a fake one, at least regarding makeup. But what if you don't know who you are? Then what are you supposed to do?

"And he's found himself, as they said in my day. Now he doesn't have to worry about whether he's a freak or a geek, a grind or a job or a nerd. He doesn't have to worry if he's gay. He's a murderer. It's marvelously unambiguous. And best of all," I took a breath, "he got away from me." (15.33)

Continuing our last thought about identity confusion, Kevin's mass murder allows him to easily identify himself. "Hi, I'm Kevin Khatchadourian, and I'm a mass murderer." It may not be pretty, but it's easy. And sometimes people take the easy route.

Mother of the ignoble Kevin Khatchadourian is how I am now, an identity that amounts to one more of our son's little victories. (15.50)

Eva never wanted to be identified as a mother. She thought she would simply be "Eva, that woman with a kid," we guess. But after Kevin's crime, Eva is reduced simply to "Kevin's mother." We imagine many people don't even know her name.

Do you ever consider how disappointed he must have been when you accepted the decoy as the real thing? (19.38)

If there is ever any time to sympathize with Kevin, this is it. Kevin fakes an entire personality for his father, and his father simply accepts it. If Kevin had revealed his true nature (assuming he ever figured out his own true nature), how would Franklin have reacted?

He was searching. He was looking for something in my face. He looked for it very carefully and very hard and then he leaned back a little in his seat. Whatever he'd been searching for, he hadn't found it, and this, too, seemed to satisfy him in some way. (27.128)

What is Kevin searching for her? Does he see himself in his mother in some way? Does he see her seeing herselfin him? Can you follow any of this?

"Khatchadourian!" I insisted. "Can you please get my name right?"

Oh, they would. (27.138-27.139)

For so long, Eva didn't want to be identified as just a mother, so we see her being defensive regarding her name, a last name she holds dearly. But maybe this once, Eva wishes she could have been someone else, to delay infamy a little longer.