Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Manipulation

By Lionel Shriver

Advertisement - Guide continues below


It was shortly after Siobhan jumped ship […] that Kevin stopped screaming. Stopped cold. (11.11)

It seems that Kevin was born that way, and by "that way," we mean "a manipulative sociopath." Was there ever anything Eva and Franklin could have done to help Kevin turn out all right? Was he just a born killer? Or did they somehow create him? Did society create him? If so, how?

Now Kevin started to wail. His tears were a bit late, in my view. I wasn't moved. I left him to it. (12.77)

Eva is aware of the way Kevin attempts to manipulate her and others early on. Either that, or she's simply cold. Which is it? Could it be a little bit of both?

Kevin's back was to us, and he was whispering. (16.48)

When Kevin goes to school, he has the opportunity to practice his manipulation skills on non-family members, to great success… if convincing a girl to scratch her own eczema-covered skin off can be considered a success. In Kevin's book, it is. Anything that makes him feel superior is good in his book.

He hated to admit he didn't know something already, and his blanket playing-dumb routine was cunningly crafted to cover any genuine gaps in his education. (16.123)

Very early on, Kevin finds a shrewd way to "play dumb" while managing to smarten up the whole time he's doing it. Kevin always needs to feel like he's ahead of the game—even if it means gaming the system to cover up his own weaknesses.

He was good. He was very, very good; you may not appreciate how good. He was smooth—the story was ready. (17.26)

Eva has a kind of sick admiration for Kevin's skills. She has a point. If Kevin could translate his powers of manipulation into something good, he would be a force to be reckoned with.

A kid does what we say—not to put too find a point on it—because we can break his arm. (17.48)

In a way, parenting is a form of manipulation. A parent has to find the balance between punishment and reward, and a punishment has to be severe enough to stick but not severe enough to damage the child. It's very psychological stuff. Eva can't find that balance with Kevin. Could anyone?

You'll just have to take my word for it—I know you won't—that when you weren't home, Kevin was sour, secretive, and sarcastic. (19.23)

Eva spends more time with Kevin than Franklin ever does, but why doesn't Franklin believe her? Is he inclined not to believe her, or has Kevin completely wrapped his dad around his little finger?

Then he stopped, right under the mirror ball, having correctly calculated that Alice's next pirouette would land her left ear exactly in line with his mouth. There. Contact. He leaned, just a little, and whispered. (20.135)

Eva witnesses this terrible scene at the school dance. What starts out like a romantic comedy concludes with the exact opposite result—total devastation. And that was surely part of Kevin's plan the entire time.

Me, I recognized too well the mark of deliberateness about these efforts—so this was trying to be a good father—but I doubt that it looked to Kevin like anything other than surfaces would suggest. Clearly his little sister's injury had won her only more doting. […] I thought, Didn't our little stratagem backfire? (23.165)

If Kevin's plan to manipulate his parents using Celia backfired, what was the original intent?

I had made up my mind and you could no more dislodge my conviction that Kevin was a Machiavellian miscreant that I could dislodge yours that he was a misunderstood choir-boy. (25.235)

Sometimes it feels like Eva is seeing Kevin's "true self" while Franklin is the one being manipulated. But is Kevin manipulating Eva, too? Are all aspects of his personality merely manipulative acts? Can we ever actually know?

We Need to Talk About Kevin Manipulation Study Group

Ask questions, get answers, and discuss with others.

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

This is a premium product

Please Wait...