Study Guide

We Need to Talk About Kevin Society and Class

By Lionel Shriver

Society and Class

The right to boss pregnant women around was surely on its way into the constitution. (5.40)

As a non-corporeal Internet entity, Shmoop has never been pregnant, but it does seem to us like people try to take ownership of pregnant women, whether they're related to them or not. They want to share baby stories, they want to know when the baby is due, they want to touch a stranger's belly, as if that weren't creepy and invasive. Being pregnant seems to open a social gate. Say hello to your new child; say goodbye to privacy. Why is that?

I would never reveal to anyone on earth that childbirth had left me unmoved. (8.29)

People also expect mothers to be happy and glowing and doting and overflowing with love toward their child 24/7; anything less is looked upon with scorn. Eva doesn't just feel less, she feels nothing, so she feels great shame from societal pressures of motherhood.

The harder I tried, the more aware I became that my very effort was an abomination. (9.11)

Because of the great shame we mention in Quote #2, Eva feels she can't even talk about how she feels. Instead of We Need to Talk About Kevin, this book could also be titled We Need to Talk about Middle-Class American Society's Expectations for Mothers.

A few white kids, middle-class kids, protected, private-telephone-line, own-their-own-TV suburban kids go ballistic, and suddenly it's a national emergency. (20.121)

This is another critique of American society. Eva observes that gang violence is something that is often ignored in the media, but white middle-class kids shoot people, and it's on every channel. Why is this? Is it because they're white? Middle-class? Both? Or is it something else? Is there something actually different about this kind of violence?

"Throughout my life I was ridiculed. Always beaten, always hated. Can you, society, blame me for what I do?" And I thought, Yes, you little s***! In a heartbeat! (21.14)

Despite her motherhood victim mentality at times, Eva feels no sympathy for the teen shooters who commit their crimes, even though they, too, are shunned by society. Are they and Eva different in their marginalization? Why doesn't she see the similarities?

"Far as I can tell, he comes from a good family." (Good, of course, meaning rich.) (21.39)

Eva deconstructs here what a "good family" is in American society, so we don't have to. Thanks, Eva.

"But if someone's made an accusation, this letter's not defending her. […] They're digging for more dirt!" (25.8)

Eva is shocked that the community and the school board would instantly turn against a teacher after one accusation of misconduct from a student. This is foreshadowing: Eva will soon see how the same community turns against her.

"You need us! What would you do without me, film a documentary on paint drying?" (26.34)

Kevin makes a point here about American society's appetite for scandal. People would be bored and complaining about a "slow news day" if there weren't some shooting or other sensational crime to get worked up about. Is life really so boring that people need constant shock from the news?

On the evening of April 7, Kevin set his alarm for half an hour earlier than usual and laid out clothing for the morning roomy enough to allow for ease of mobility, choosing that dashing white shirt with billowing fencing-style sleeves in which he might photograph well. (27.51)

Kevin knows that the media will descend upon him, and he wants to make a good first impression—all the better to confuse everyone. Society expects a pimply kid in a trench coat, not Kevin, a handsome young man dressed like he's going to a formal.

Despite his avowed disinterest in your work, Franklin, Kevin was about to launch Kryptonite's most successful advertising campaign to date. (27.57)

It's odd how certain things benefit from these sensational crimes. After seeing how effective these bike locks are, despite the terrible purpose they served, people flock to buy them. Has that ever happened in real life? Or have you noticed a brand whose reputation has been destroyed by its association with infamy?