We Need to Talk About Kevin

by Lionel Shriver

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How might we apply a Freudian analysis to the relationship between Kevin, Eva, and Frankin in We Need to Talk About Kevin? Should we view Eva and Franklin as representations of the Maternal and Paternal function, leading to a failure to resolve the Oedipus complex? 

In the Oedipal situation, in an inverted way, the closer Eva and Franklin are to each other, the greater the distance between them.

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The Oedipal connection between mother and son in We Need to Talk about Kevin is a kind of inverted one, because it appears to be based mostly on hate (though one could say this is just the flip side of love). It's difficult to know how much of the problem Eva has created and how much has simply been beyond her control. The most striking thing, and this is indicative of the failure to resolve the Complex, is that Kevin's connection to Eva seems to override everything else. He plays up to his father, Franklin, just to torture his mother. Franklin is clueless as to the boy's actual nature, or is in denial about it. This failure, on his part, to recognize that something is wrong simply alienates Eva and probably exacerbates the antagonism she feels toward Kevin. But in doing so the Oedipal bond between mother and son is paradoxically strengthened. In an inverted way, just as an aloof or antagonistic father would lead to the failure to resolve the Oedipal situation, Franklin, in not recognizing Kevin's problem and thinking Kevin is "just a boy," somehow increases his own distance from his son. The fact of starting Kevin's interest in archery is an unwitting act, by Franklin, that leads to his own destruction, which is what, in Freudian theory, the male child intends subconsciously to do in the absence of resolving the conflict. In the end no one is left of this dysfunctional unit but Eva and Kevin, with their hatred or love-hate, if that's what it is.

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A Freudian analysis of the relationships among Eva, Franklin, and their son Kevin would focus on the parents’ dynamic and the son’s psychosexual development.

Kevin does not seem to develop along the same track as a normal child. A major plot point that serves as evidence of this is his resistance to potty training. Kevin almost seems to enjoy forcing his mother to change diapers well beyond the appropriate age. A Freudian would suggest that this behavior is the result of a prolonged fixation on the anal stage of psychosexual development. This is one indication that something is amiss in Kevin’s psyche.

Another underlying issue is that Eva was a sexually liberated, free spirit before she met Franklin. A Freudian might say she feels repressed or trapped within the confines of marriage. This causes her to resent her first child as an emblem of this entrapment.

In turn, Kevin intuits his mother’s resentment from the beginning, which hinders the normal maternal bonding process. As a result, both Eva and Kevin fail to connect emotionally. This causes Kevin to seek Eva’s attention in other ways, namely, by intentional misbehavior, as he matures. Eva then interprets this behavior as evidence of her son’s sociopathic nature rather than as a desperate plea for attention. This only deepens the divide between mother and son. By adolescence, Kevin’s behavioral patterns are fixed.

Franklin is a sort of patsy when it comes to Kevin. Kevin performs normalcy in front of his father, often being overtly affectionate and mild mannered as a display to anger his mother. A Freudian would suggest that Kevin does this because of an Oedipal desire for Eva. Since Eva is emotionally distant, Kevin vents his latent sexual frustrations in his treatment of Franklin. Freudians would say that this is Kevin’s attempt to make his mother jealous, thereby gaining his mother’s favor. Furthermore, Franklin is a sort of weakened male figure in the sense that he displays few traditionally masculine traits. Kevin interprets Franklin as inferior, a fact that further frustrates him when it comes to his mother.

The failure to resolve Kevin’s Oepidal complex stems from Eva’s resentment of her son, her preference for a perceived “weaker” male, and his stunted psychosexual development.

This also explains why he murders his father but not his mother; it is more than just coincidence. He wants to isolate her so that she is then forced to give him the maternal attention he craves. He ultimately succeeds because he is now imprisoned, and Eva’s guilt over what happened compel her to visit him regularly.

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On the most basic of levels, I think that a Freudian analysis of the relationship between mother, father, and son is one where "talk therapy" is absolutely warranted.  Even before anything else, there are some underlying issues present in the relationship between all three that need to be resolved.  A Freudian would argue that psychoanalysis or a form of psychotherapy would be effective here.  For example, in discussing why they should have a child, husband and wife agree that a child would give them "something to talk about."  This would be an issue for the Freudian, enabling psychoanalysis to explain why there are some issues between them that prevents open and honest communication.  This could also continue with Eva's feeling "strangely cold" during pregnancy, a type of physical experience that has emotional connections.  Discussing this in an open format where there is no fear of social retribution is important for the Freudian because it enables the subconscious thoughts to emerge and to be able to address them in a responsible manner. The gap that emerges between mother and child is something that also would require a Freudian psychoanalyst to explore.  Why is there a distance between them?  Is there some type of post- partum depression happening?  Are there other issues about her own life that are emerging with Kevin's lack of emotional contact?  The reality is that Franklin, Eva, and Kevin are involved in a psychological setting where there are so many forces at play that psychotherapy and psychoanalysis is essential.  The Freudian would see this discussion as being able to uncover what lies underneath and, perhaps, better understand the dynamics that help to drive Kevin to do what he did.

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