Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English



First Advisor

Carnell, Rachel

Subject Headings

American Literature, American Studies, Families and Family Life, Gender Studies, Literature, Womens Studies


There are critical reviews regarding Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin that discuss many controversial topics in the novel. Of these reviews, most critics limit their arguments to the taboo topics of American school shootings and Eva’s character as an ostensibly ambivalent mother. Unfortunately, there is little academic criticism on Shriver’s most recognized novel and, among such analyses, two of Shriver’s most crucial depictions are overlooked. Firstly, readers must acknowledge the impact that contemporary American society has on females and mothers. This novel shows how much a culture relies on societal “rules” that govern human expectations. Secondly, Shriver’s character of Celia is often overlooked. Without taking Celia into account, Eva cannot be fully analyzed as a mother. Eva’s character can be defined as a conventional and unconventional female. We should also recognize Celia’s importance, as well as the significance of each child’s reaction when identifying Eva’s conventional and unconventional mothering tactics. As I demonstrate, Eva is not an ambivalent mother, even though society labels her as such. Shriver suggests that how a person mothers a particular child is influenced by that individual child’s reaction to that style of mothering. Kevin responds more agreeably to Eva’s unconventional mothering, while Celia flourishes with Eva’s conventional mothering. For Shriver, contemporary society defines and critiques our expectations for gender and motherhood. Since Shriver’s protagonist is both a female and a mother, Shriver suggests that the character of Eva must endure more scrutiny from society. Ultimately, Shriver depicts a society that makes us do, say, and think the absurd, like condemning a mother for her teenager’s murderous acts.