The authors portray the protagonists of the novels as subversive outsiders. They have one friend, Frank’s Jamie (Banks, 1990, p93), who can easily tell that he has killed a few rabbits (Banks, 1990, p93), and Kevin’s Leonard (Shriver (2011), p307). The readers are suggested that Kevin and Frank, young murderers, are outsiders because of their inherent evil. However, the reader is invited to question this assertion. Although it is subtler in the novels, it is the strongest argument. After a thorough analysis, it becomes clear that Kevin is a victim of their families as well as society.

The immoral behavior of the protagonists in both novels makes them intrinsically malign. Frank, at just five years old, decided to “kill Blyth right away” (Banks 1990, p43). His cousin then “sprayed our two houses with flame” (Banks 1990, page 43). A year later, he killed Blyth with a very “macabre” (Banks 1990, page 47) manner and called his killing “exciting” (Banks 1990, page 48). His “delight” in destruction (Banks 1990, p48), which he did not have, is a sign that he was born with it. He was too young to be fully socialized to violence. Rob Myers argues that the “violent tendencies and personality of the protagonist” are his own invention, arising from what The Nature vs. Nurture debate identifies in human behavior’s evolutionary roots. Frank’s wicked nature further shows in his murders of Paul, his younger brother, and Esmerelda his cousin. Paul was the second victim. Frank did not show any remorse. Banks, 1990.p114) he considered the best way to accomplish Esmerelda’s death. He didn’t worry or feel unsure about the outcome. But when the idea entered his mind, he felt the need to act on it. Banks, 90.p113. Banks asserts that Frank doesn’t possess a sophisticated moral framework within his head to allow him to put his ‘violent thoughts’ into action. The Daily Telegraph claims Frank has an obsessive personality. Shriver says that this means he is unable to take in the reality and feelings of others, which Shriver calls ‘evil’. This is illustrated in Shriver’s account of Frank’s birth. He displays “a lackluster enthusiasm” (Shriver 2011 p96) and “distaste” toward his mother (Shriver 2011 p96). His animus towards Eva increases quickly. She notes that he “smites” her with the evil-eye after just one and a half years. Janet Phillips explains that he was’malicious at birth’ and ‘an extremely horrible child’ before he had been socialized. This is a clear indication of Kevin’s inherent malignence. This is a characteristic that only he can take responsibility for, and is similar to Frank. The protagonists are therefore victims of their own nature. Kevin’s series of crimes is also similar to Frank. Kevin targets other people over his lifetime in other ways than he does in one episode. His murdering spree is concentrated in one episode. As a child, he resents his nannies. She claim that he “pulls…hair…very tough indeed” and that “he knows how it hurts” (Shriver 2011 p122). This is a sign that he doesn’t know how to feel pain. His nannies say he “pulls…hair…very hard indeed” (Shriver, 2011, p122). Alan Ravitz, a child and adolescent psychiatrist states that “this child didn’t want nothing but to cause havoc.” In his early years of life, Kevin “enticed” Violetta (Shriver 2011 p218) to “rake her arms” (Shriver 2011 p218). The result was a truly disgusting act defiance. Kevin was delighted and left nursery with his “eyes…sparkling”. This shows him as evil, just as Frank of The Wasp Factory does.

It is obvious that the central family in both novels plays a crucial role in the protagonists’ deviance. Frank’s mother, Agnes, is particularly significant because she “deserted”, (Banks. 1990, P135) the family “almost as soon after my birth”(Banks. 1990, P135) and was therefore absent in Frank’s childhood. Agnes is what causes Frank’s bitterness towards women. She was abandoned by her family and her “expecting” (Banks. 1990, page 135) nature. He experiences this during his brief return. William Pollack, a psychologist says studies show that boys often have problems after being separated from their mothers. Frank is an example of this. Banks describes Frank as someone who believes in ‘psychotics and harm-minded’ beliefs. Recent British family studies have shown that children who are unable to see their parents are more likely to engage in violent crime and ‘antisocial behavior’. These studies show that Frank’s violence stems from his mother’s abandonment, proving his victim status.

In We Need to Talk About Kevin Eva is not a particularly positive mother figure, despite being present in his early years. As their primary socialization, children naturally learn from their mothers basic behaviours. Kevin clearly inherited many of Eva’s harsh traits. Kevin’s violent tendencies are undoubtedly learned. He is often thrown by his mother “halfway across the nursery” at six years of age (Shriver 2011, p229). Studies have shown that violence can be learned, and that it is often learned early in life by watching others. This could suggest that Eva’s actions had an impact on Kevin’s “Thursday,” which was published in Shirer (2011), p14. Kevin seems to associate violence in this way with honesty and love. (Shriver (2011) p204). Ezra Miller is the actor playing Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin. Miller says that Kevin wants Ezra to confront her with the truth of their relationship. It is clear that the mother’s role is tied to the violence of the protagonists. This makes Kevin and Frank outsiders. Both novels show how society plays a role in the brutality suffered by the protagonists. The Wasp Factory is an example of this, with Frank’s horrific behavior clearly a result. This socialization process is evident in Frank’s keen interest and knowledge of “War” (Banks. 1990. p23). It is also apparent that Frank grew up watching TV programmes about wars. Research suggests that young boys who are exposed to violent scenes may be more aggressive than they were before. Dr Jordan Grafman concluded that this could cause aggression to feel “acceptable.” Frank also liked war programmes, which depicted heroes and admirable examples male masculinity.

Frank also feels inferior to his masculinity due to his “unfortunate handicap” (Banks 1990, p14). Jackson Katz and Jeremy Earp claim that media portray male violence as a normal expressions of masculinity. This proves Frank’s desire to increase his male self-esteem. Frank is also marginalised because of his behavior and his relationship to Eric (Banks. 1990.p62) who set fire to and ate “pet dog” (Banks.90.p62). They “would run away…shout out rude things at a distance” (Banks. 1990.p62) and give him the “funny stare” (Banks.90, p63). When they saw him they immediately assumed he had “got up to similar tricks” (Banks.90, p62). Frank stayed away from the town for his “short visits” (Banks. 1990, p62). He also remained on his island, where there was “reassurance, safety, and security” (Banks. 1990, p180). Frank believes the world treats him cruelly (Banks, 1990. p180). This strongly supports his belief he “hadto” (Banks. 1990. p112) kill his family members, especially Esmerelda. Esmerelda felt that he was protecting Esmerelda against “the evil and insidious influence of the society” (Banks. 1990. p111). It is also clear that he killed Paul as well as Blyth. Blyth, a native of the island, was raised there, and Paul was the unnamed son of a man whose mother has not explained. Frank believed that the society was inherently controlling them, and he saw this as a threat. Frank’s passion for what Judy Carrick called ‘ritual or tribalism’ was a protective force against outsiders. Therefore, society is responsible for Frank’s isolation.

Shriver uses this metaphor of society to describe the misbehaviour of the protagonists in We Need to Talk About Kevin. As an American citizen, Kevin was exposed to the American Dream concept. It was initially about hard work and perseverance but became a hedonistic ideology over time. Eva, his mom, describes to him the weaknesses of the country. The lack of a “sense” in history is what makes it so selfish and prefers to live for its own purposes, and not those of others. This view is illustrated in the “sour,” (Shriver. 2011, p274) as well as the “sarcastic,” (Shriver. 2011, p274) Kevin. Kevin believes that Americans are not caring because they study the same African-American Americans at African-American History Month each year (Shriver. 2011, p276). This, along with numerous high school shootings which were widely covered in the media – including the killing of a teacher and two pupils (Shriver 2011 p72), the murder of a principal at his middle school and the killing of a student (Shriver 2011 p72) – de-sensitized Kevin to other people’s feelings because he was surrounded so much by individualism. This was critical to Kevin’s maturation. While sociological studies have shown that children around the age of four begin to comprehend rules, Kevin’s senses about morality never develop fully. Kevin’s “maleficence”, as Shriver (2011) p440 puts it, was not a problem because he was only focused on his own interests. As he needed to “get something from it”, his reasoning behind choosing whom to kill was simple (Shriver (2011), p416). This shows that Kevin was not able to apply sophisticated principles. He was influenced by egotism, corruption and other philosophies. Kevin’s motivations are also linked to the American culture’s obsession with sensationalism.

Kevin’s American Dream turned into an obsession over fame and fortune. As a result, his culture was not conducive to his unique personality. Instead, Shriver, 2011, P433, shriver.p433, shriver.p433, shriver.p433, shriver.p433, and shriver.p433 focused on those who were “acting” and “personal grooming”. Kevin, a confused and intelligent boy, became resentful. He wanted to be seen, even if he was not well-known. This is clearly evident in his television interview (“Shriver”, 2011, page 411) in which Kevin seems to love being “the superstar” (Shriver (2011)). He puts his hands behind the head and appears happy and confident (Shriver (2011) p413). Part of his reason for the murders can be found in this interview. He says he wants to tell a story (Shriver. 2011, p417). Research suggests that this could explain why he behaved aggressively. Violence portrayed as entertainment may cause brain to ‘blunt’ to the horror of the scenes. Kevin, who was an avid player of gun-based video game with Franklin, clearly experienced these effects. Kevin was adamant about violence being normalized and enjoyed it. He proudly shouted “maleficence” to his classmates while he “put an Arrow” to them (Shriver 2011, p440). This also indicates that he has fallen prey to American society’s gender stereotypes.

The novel We Need to Talk About Kevin depicts the subversive outsiders as victims of their environment. Their cultural and family backgrounds are evident in their behaviour. Although it may be true that everyone experiences this, the Nature vs. Nurture debate reveals how both genetics and upbringing influence the development of a person’s personality. This shows that even though Frank and Kevin were different than what is expected, they are not to blame for their deviance. Their surroundings did not fully understand them and led unwittingly to destructive patterns.


  • rowandavid

    I am a 32-year-old educational blogger and student. I love to share my knowledge and experiences with others through writing. I believe that knowledge is power, and I am passionate about helping others learn and grow.