So for your reading pleasure (grab your glasses, maybe a cool drink, put on your thinking cap and boggle your mind.)
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Giver is a story of an isolated nameless community sometime in the distant future, which at first glance seems to be a perfect utopia society, but as the story unfolds reveals it to be distinctly dystopian.
A dystopian story centers on a hero who questions the society, the conflict in which the hero decides to take action or escape and the final climax. In a dystopian society, it has at least one fatal flaw. The story centers around Jonas as he learns about the true nature of his society and realizes something must be done to change his world.
In a dystopian society, the social structures are clearly defined and enforced. In The Giver, the community is ruled by an oligarchy of elders and the social class structure is clearly defined. The class structure designations are the day and night laborers, birthmothers, the family unit, the childless adults and the aged adults.
The childless adults live separately from the family units and the elderly live in the House of the Old. Birthmothers are allowed to have 3 children in 3 years, then they go on to be day laborers and are not allowed to have a family. In most Dystopian cultures there is a lack of romantic love and sexual love or emotion has been eliminated. As soon as anyone starts to experience stirrings (sexual desire), they are given a pill to eliminate the stirring and have to take it for the rest of their life
Because sexual desire had eliminated, even the matching up of spouses is given heavy thought by the elders in order to make sure everyone fits within the society. “Even the Matching of Spouses was given such weighty consideration that sometimes an adult who applied to receive a spouse waited months or even years before a Match was approved and announced. All the factors—disposition, energy level, intelligence, and interests – had to correspond and to interact perfectly. All matches were monitored by the Committee of Elders for three years before they could apply for children.” (pg 48)
Each family unit has one boy and one girl. Each family has their own home with standard furniture, but do not have television, stereos, telephone, or computers. The only books in the home are “the necessary reference volumes that each household contained: a dictionary, and the thick community volume which contained descriptions of every office, factory, building and committee. And the Book of Rules, of course.” (pg 74)
The community is meticulously regulated by the Elders and everyone has to follow the rules. The people of the community seem to be content in their roles, with the elders enforcing all the rules. Everyone has a job suited to their abilities – physically, mentally and emotionally. It is an ideal society on the surface with no crime or disease, pain or strife, starvation or unemployment; rudeness is not allowed and precision of language is required. What the society lacks is freedom
While it seems everyone has the freedom to do what they want, they are observed and told if they do something wrong. There is a public address system and every house and building is monitored by two way speakers. There is always the threat of Release.
At the beginning Release seems benign where a person is released from the community to go Elsewhere. “For a contributing citizen to be released from the community was final decision, a terrible punishment, an overwhelming statement of failure.” (pg 4) “There were only two occasions of release which were not punishment. Release of an elderly, which was a time of celebration for a life well and fully lived; and release of a newchild, which always brought a sense of what could we have done.” (pg 7)
However as the story progresses, Release is revealed as being death, euthanizing by injection. The Elders are meticulous about the rules and one of the rules is that everyone has to attend The Ceremony.
Each year the entire community is required to attend The Ceremony in which all children move forward in age one year and the newchildren are assigned to their families. The Ceremony begins with the ones: children born that year that will be designated as one and assigned to a family. “Each December, all the newchildren born during the year turns One. One at a time – there were always fifty in each year’s group, if none had been released – they had been brought to the stage by the Nurturers who had cared for them since birth. Some were already walking, wobbly on their unsteady legs; others were no more than a few days old, wrapped in blankets, held by their Nurturers.” (pg 11).
There are ceremonies for every age which include Threes who have to start sharing their dreams at breakfast and feelings at dinnertime; Sevens get their own front button jacket as a sign of independence; Eights get a jacket with pockets and have to start doing volunteer work; Nines get a bike; Tens all get the same style haircut; Elevens get “different undergarments for the females, whose bodies were beginning to change; and longer trousers for the males, with a specially shaped pockets for the small calculator that they would use this year in school.” (pg 46) Twelves are given a life time job assignment by the elders who have been observing them and decide what job they would be perfectly suited for. After twelve, age is no longer considered important.
Jonas is about to turn twelve and go through the Ceremony of Twelve. Jonas is selected to the Receiver of Memory which is the most honored job in the community. He is shocked to learn that the receiver of memory holds all the memories of the past of the whole world. The current Receiver of Memory is an elder and needs someone whom he can pass on the memories of the community and the world. “It’s the memories of the whole world. Before you, before me, before the previous receiver and generations before him.” (pg 77) The members of the community only have one generation of memories and do not remember anything beyond that. The elders do not want the people burdened by memories of the past. Up until the moment Jonas learns the truth about his society and the past from the Receiver of Memory, now called the Giver, he did not know that the past existed. “I thought there was only us; I thought there was only now.” (pg 78)
Jonas learns the history of the community and why they made the decision to change to Sameness. According to the Giver “Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with difference. He thought for a moment. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”
Through the Giver, Jonas is given the memory of all the things that have been eliminated such as pain, sadness, loss and violence as well as what is missing such as love, adventure, animals, beauty and true family. Once Jonas is given these memories, he wants everyone to have them. “But why can’t everyone have the memories? I think it would seem a little easier if the memories were shared. You and I wouldn’t have to bear so much by ourselves, if everybody took a part.”
According to the Giver “You’re right, he said. But then everyone would be burdened and pained. They don’t want that. And that’s the real reason The Receiver is so vital to them, and so honored. They selected me – and you – to lift that burden from themselves.” (pg 113) One of Jonas rules as Receiver of Memory is that he cannot apply for release.
Jonas discovers the true meaning of Release when he witnesses a video of his father, a nurturer, euthanizing a baby. Twins had been born to a birth mother and only one baby would be kept; whichever one weighed more. After he discovers that Release is death and the person is not going “elsewhere” he is devastated.
Jonas realizes he does not want to live with Sameness. He wants the freedom to make his own choices, see color and experience the beauty of the world, and feel love. Once Jonas discovers the truth, he wants to change the rules and let everyone have the choice to make their own decisions. He wants everyone to have the memories and The Giver agrees with him. Ten years prior to Jonas being selected for Receiver of Memory, another twelve had been selected who was deemed perfect for the position. Her name was Rosemary.
Rosemary could not handle all the horrible memories given to her by the Receiver and petitioned for Release. When she was Released, all the memories she had received were released. The memories “went to the place where memories once existed before Receivers were created. Somewhere out there – and then the people had access to them. Everyone had access to the memories. It was chaos and they really suffered for awhile.” (pg 104). The one fatal flaw of a dystopian society is the release of memory back to the people.
If the Receiver of Memory dies or leaves, all the memories of the past given to that person will be released back into the community. If Jonas leaves the community, any memories that have been given to him so far, will be released. Jonas and the Giver decide together that change is necessary and the memories need to be released. They decide that Jonas will leave and the Giver will stay to help the people handle the return of memory and ease the pain.
However, their plans change and he has to leave abruptly when a new child Gabriel is about to be Released because he is unable to sleep through the night and considered a problem. Jonas father is a Nurturer and his family had been taking care of Gabriel, hoping to give the child strength enough to be assigned to a family. Now that Jonas understands what Release means and has grown to really love Gabriel, he does not want to see him killed. He leaves in the middle of the night, stealing his father’s bike and taking Gabriel to find Elsewhere.
At the end of the story, we are left with Jonas remembering the first memory he had been given—sledding down a hill. Suddenly he and Gabriel find a sled at the top of snow covered hill, get on and go down the hill, sledding toward the memory of warmth, happiness, twinkling red and green lights and the echo of music. The ending of the story is ambiguous, leaving what happened to Jonas up to the reader’s imagination.
The Giver is a thought provoking, highly controversial book with its themes of a controlled society, precision of language, euthanasia and sameness. It has been banned in some libraries and schools, while other schools have embraced the book. Lois Lowry wanted to write a book that would encourage children to question and appreciate their lives.
In Lois Lowry’s acceptance speech for the Newbery Award in 1984, she stated “In beginning to write The Giver, I created – as I always do, in every book – a world that existed only in my imagination – the world of “only us, only now.” I tried to make Jonas’s world feel familiar, comfortable and safe, and I tried to seduce the reader. I seduced myself along the way. It did feel good, that world. I got rid of all the things I fear and dislike: all the violence, prejudice, poverty and injustice, and I even threw in good manners as a way of life, because I liked the idea of it.” However she realized the book couldn’t be written as a fairy tale where everyone lived happily ever after. “And if I’ve learned anything through that river of memories, it is that we can’t live in a walled world, in an “only us, only now” world where we are all the same and feel safe. We would have to sacrifice too much. The richness of color and diversity would disappear; feelings for other humans would no longer be necessary. Choices would be obsolete.”
The dystopian world of The Giver contains some important lessons including why freedom and choice are so important, should be valued and we should appreciate the world we live in.
Interesting book, huh! Not something I would let my child read until much older. Even then, would have 2nd thoughts about it. I came across many sites detailing how teachers are using this book in the classroom. Most amazing of all was the internet collaboration between students in Canada and Iraq. The Canadian students were somewhat critical of the book vs the Iraqi students who didn't see anything wrong with this type of society. It truly is interesting to learn about the viewpoints of different cultures - scary but interesting.