Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We need to talk about 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'

Was Kevin born bad or was his cold heart the result of an unmaternal mother?

This caused some debate and controversy on Visual Bookshelf (please read fully before making a judgement):

This is a difficult question to answer without being overly judgmental. On the one hand, it could be argued that Kevin's coldness is largely attributable to a mother who admitted to having little or no interest in her infant son, and one who did not display the kind of unconditional love and interest which is so vital in nurturing a child's emotional development.

What little I know of this is that, in our development from birth (and surely our in utero experience counts too) the first step in any normal child's emotional evolution is called 'no life' followed by 'autism' and then psychosis (followed by other stages and latterly, obviously, by full sanity around the age of 6). These processes are subject to secure emotional circumstances and are the root, crudely speaking,of a child's ability to empathise with other humans. However comfortable a child may be materially, primordially its first port of call and source of love and security is its mother.

Speculating, it seems very probable to me that a child instinctively knows if they are unloved and unwanted by their mother. It also seems equally likely that this perception could start in the womb. This being the case, it would seem to put Kevin at the very start of the emotional-development scale ('no life') and therefore almost entirely incapable of empathy. This fits with Eva's description of him. As a consequence, Eva is the one person of whom Kevin tries desperately to gain attention his entire life, from resisting potty training until he was six, masturbating knowing she would see him (both sexual acts in their way) up until his final staging of 'Thursday'. Aside from killing people because as Eva (I believe) rightly observed, they were passionate about something, he also killed the two people that Eva really loved in the world; the ultimate act of a jealous lover and thereby securing her all for himself.

Does this mean that Eva is in part responsible for Thursday? To put such blame at anyone's door seems harsh. The one person guilty of a crime is the perpetrator himself and surely not all children unloved by their mothers grow up the same way; certainly not to the extent that they murder eleven entirely guiltless people?

I also think it's important to look at the wider picture. Despite all intents to the contrary, and however inadequate Eva was as a mother, Franklin was ineffectual as a father. Blind forgiveness or the inability to see the truth of or behind a child's behaviour is - I would go so far as to say - also tantum out to a kind of emotional abuse; a withholding of necessary and positive attention. If it is a parent's role to love a child unconditionally, it is also their role to see who they are, what they can (and will) do wrong and set them on the right path. This is what they want, it is what Kevin desperately needed and, ultimately, was another vital part of his necessary development (the cruel to be kind bit) that was patently lacking.

Lastly, is it then fair to blame Eva for being an unfeeling mother?

Let's consider that when she was bringing up Kevin, she was, to all intents and purposes, entirely on her own. Her husband rarely supported her and even she did not take the possibility of postnatal depression seriously. Grandparents did not seem to be on hand, or even many professionals. Kevin may not have been spared an unwanted term in the womb, a traumatic birth or even a cold mother, but the responsibility for the way he turned out cannot solely be laid at his mother's door, despite being the most important influence in his life.

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