We Need to Talk About Kevin
Relating to Kevin: A Close Analysis of Shriver’s Language on Page 455.
Shriver uses the page (455) itself as an opportunity for Eva’s character to justify the actions and the, apparent, true intentions and thoughts of her son, Kevin. As we do not hear this from Kevin himself, due to the affectionless psychopathy he suffers from as a result of the maternal deprivation he was submitted to as a child (causing an inability for him to verbalize his emotions), his mother’s role as a depicter is vital in gaining the empathetic response that Shriver wants from her readers in relation to Kevin’s character. This may perhaps be one of the reasons for Shriver’s selection of an epistolary style; to allow character inferences to be made through the report of our main and most trusted character as their depictions, their indicative language, is our most reliable source of information and this is crucial in creating an effectively empathetic mother-son relationship for the desired end of the novel.
The lexical choices Shriver makes throughout the novel and particularly on this page are reflective of our narrator’s hesitance about the reality of the situations that surround life around her son. The very first line (of this page), “Clearly the sunlight had played some visual trick”, displays a modality change within the very same sentence by initially stating, through the confirmatory adverb, “Clearly”, that the tricks that the sunlight played were evident (to her), however, this is conflictory with Shriver’s adverbial decision towards the end of the sentence as she selects the imprecise adverb of frequency, “some”, to determine the meaning and to introduce the certainty of the following noun phrase, “visual trick.” The syntactical patterning chosen to structure this sentence alone works to reduce the emphasis on the dynamic verbs “had played” as it is the “visual trick” that is the most purposive phrase here. The noun, “trick”, is also considerably effective as it continues the lexical thread that is implicit of an external act of deviance beguiling her, which we see her subtly recognisant of throughout the course of the novel.
The fronted adverbial that begins the next sentence, “He is merely waving an upraised arm- “, syntactically devalues the entire action that is being carried out. The dynamic verb, “waving” combined with the preposition, “upraised” creates enthusiastic imagery within the reader’s mind, the meaning of which is completely changed through the initial intensifier that is used, thusly lessening the significance of the wave itself. The oxymoronic imagery that this sentence creates illustrates the paradoxical narrator that we’ve grown to know and expect this from and the declarative sentence depicts the definiteness that her character consistently portrays, regardless of whether she is correct or not.
The modal certainty in the following line, “He must be hoping without saying as much- “, specifically in the word, “must”, proposes the extensiveness of her knowledge of him and portrays the accuracy of her schemas about him as she is able to understand his cognitions despite his lack of words. This works in unison with the lexical thread of motherhood that we see in the final few letters of the novel as we see Eva’s character embrace being the parent through accepting and appreciating her son despite his former psychopathic activities. Using the stative verb, “hoping”, to reveal Kevin’s internal mental processes, despite his dynamicity (- that we see the lack thereof in the preposition “without”, that comes before the dynamic verb “saying” -) displays the instinctiveness of identifying a child’s motives, an act that exists as an accompaniment of motherhood, something which has been anticipated by her character more or less as the novel progressed.
Moving on through the sentences, the line, “he is a teenager, after all- “, forebodes the final forgiving that is made known to us within the next letter. More specifically, the use of the common concrete noun “teenager” represents almost a justification from Eva of her son’s actions allowing the commencement of her character progression in which she welcomes parenthood with semi-open arms.
The next few lines subsequent to this share the lexical field of hurt, “to apologise for lashing out at breakfast”, she again, continues with her act of reasoning for him however, the use of the dynamic verb “lashing” in conjunction with this justificatory expression is contrary, although, this allows us to understand the nature of our, although now defensive, honest and equitable narrative voice; we can trust her account of things. She goes on to talk about his “harsh, ugly repudiations of everything his father had tried to do for him”. The adjectival phrase “harsh… repudiations” continues the previous lexis denoting words of insult towards Franklin, however, again, contrarily, the common noun “breakfast” implicitly suggests meals being eaten together despite the personal struggles that were being faced, creating communal family imagery. The pronoun “everything” advocates his dislike towards a matter of topics which suggests that the things that Kevin was repudiating were not a reflection of his father’s poor ideas but more of Kevin himself. She also uses possessive pronouns fairly consistently throughout this page through always addressing Franklin as “his” father. The semantically interesting word choice Shriver makes at the end, as she talks of everything Franklin had “tried to do” which is thought-provocative of the fact that, although attempted, he didn’t actually get it done.
The accentuated adjective “interested” at the start of the next sentence, “He is interested in how the Canon works,” puts emphasis on the fact that he actually has had interests as that appears to have been a rare commodity for him. The syntactical positioning of words is important here too as the mention of “the Canon” is at the end of the sentence as if to indicate that whatever his interest is in, is irrelevant, it’s just the fact that he has an interest in the first place. The series of words following this, “he hopes you’ll explain what “f-stop” means another time” is almost cyclical in itself as it both begins and ends with indications that he wants a relationship with him or at least to make conversation with him, which is a start. The abstract noun, “hopes” works in unity with the rest of the page in creating a positive ending image of Kevin as the novel comes to closer to its finish. The dynamic verb, “explain”, refers to a long, in-depth process showing that he really wanted a conversation and time spent with him, even if it was to happen “another time”.
Our narrator’s truthfulness is demonstrated to us once more as she says, “In truth, he deeply admires his father’s enterprise”. The common noun “enterprise” hangs off the end of the sentence as if to syntactically symbolise its insignificance. The adverbial intensifier “deeply” stresses this further as it highlights the passion within his admiration. She goes on to talk of how he, “seized upon such a quirky profession”. The past principle of the dynamic verb “[seize]” emphasises his lack of control over acquiring the job, debatably reducing his value although it’s questionable to what extent as she continues to bring up the profession several times. The sentence concludes with her stating that it “allows such creative latitude”; the irony of the noun phrase “creative latitude” is shown through the noun as it indicates the freedom that he had, all of which was taken by his own son.
The following sentence, “It’s just awkward for an adolescent boy” leaks through with the justificatory language that Eva so naturally uses. The noun phrase, “adolescent boy”, along with the following explanations provided that begin with, “at this age”, imply that his age alone is enough for her to come to terms with the fact that he, her son, did what he did; it is enough for her to accept it.
Her motherhood has leaked through several times due to Shriver’s consistent use of the lexical thread, we see it here again where she says, “the boy feels awful now”. Again, with the emphasis on his age through the semantically interesting word choice of “boy” as opposed to any other masculine title, she continues justifying actions with a common concrete noun that defines his age. The modal consistency from the previous few sentences also continues through in the next line through the use of the stative verb, “was”, as she talks of how “The fit of pique was all a lie”.
As the page goes on, her motherhood continues to seep through into clear reflection of the lexical choices Shriver made. She speaks of how, “he’s learned one heck of a lot from museums”, the adjectival and exclamatory phrase “learned one heck” accentuating that he was the one who learned (as opposed to the museum teaching him), making him an active part, or, due to the syntactical positioning of the words in this sentence, the most active part, in his own learning. The syntax also highlights the irrelevance of the common noun “museum” as it is not about where he was learning things, but more so the fact that he was learning at all; this may be the reason for it being dropped off towards the end of the sentence instead having immediate attention drawn to it at the start. The line itself is unclear as to whether Eva is desperately searching for the good in her son in order to live with herself less guiltily, or whether she’s come to the realisation that there was actually good in him, a goodness that she sees to remain.
She continues, saying, “he takes out those autumn leaves you two collected”. The dynamic verb, “takes”, again primarily addressing his role, and then going on to the demonstrative pronoun “those”, indicating significance and important in the selected leaves as they were ones that the two of them had collected together; something that is drawn attention to as the words, “you two collected” were the final words of the sentence making it effective in emphasising the unity in their collection. Also, an additional lexical thread that echoes through the words of this page is the subtle use of the lexical field of mourning. There appears to be some sort of metaphorical gravitational pull towards this topic that is unclear until we reach towards the end of the novel as despite what seems to be going on, Eva’s character finds a way, though usually cryptically, to bring the subject to paper.
Towards the end of the page, a more sinister lexis takes control of the sentences, “Seeing that the colours are beginning to fade reminds him of the mortality of all things.” The sentence itself uses pathetic fallacy to portray the emotion of the character, or more precisely, Eva’s own interpretation of his emotion as the use of the third-person present verb when stating that it “reminds him” draws our attention back to the fact that all that we are being told about Kevin is through an account provided by Eva alone (minus the direct quotations that she has left without manipulation). Having a dynamic(?) verb, such as “fade”, describe the abstract noun “colours” which usually has positive connotations, paints a foreboding picture of something awful approaching, which, we see to be true in the end lines of the page, “the grass was black”. The literal language Shriver uses in order to present this image to us increases the trauma of it and we immediately, and accurately, assume the worst: death. She goes on to speak of the arrows that she found “angled through [his] throat” and an additional “three other arrows – stuck in the hollow between [his] pectorals where [she] loved to rest [her] head,” illustrating Shriver, again, revisiting the lexical thread of mourning through Eva’s reminiscent thoughts whilst seeing her husband’s body one final time; we see this through the use of the past participle of the stative verb “[love]”. The nouns and adjectives (“stuck”, “angled”), too, work to augment the effect of the revelation of Franklin’s death.
Bibliography:Shriver. L (2003) We Need to Talk About Kevin. Counterpoint