The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is one of those books I somehow missed out on reading in school. I recently grabbed it from the library and gave it a read. My overall impression of the book is that it was quite short and quite sad. Definitely written for a young audience, the story nonetheless deals with very real dystopian issues in a society where color and emotion are gone. I wish the book had been longer and that a little more about the society had been explored in juxtaposition to the vague memories the reader is shown. It was a good short story, and I would feel safe calling it a solid introduction to dystopian fiction for young and old — a READ.
Here, There Be Spoilers
The Giver follows a young boy on the cusp of his culture’s rite of passage into adulthood: becoming a twelve and being assigned a profession. In the community where Jonas lives, everything seems as wonderful as a black and white sitcom and works like a well-oiled machine. At the age of 12, children transcend into adulthood by being assigned a job to train for, and Jonas is assigned to the rare Receiver position.
As a Receiver, Jonas is responsible for holding the memories and subsequent emotions of hundreds of years, while the rest of the community operates in blissful ignorance.
Throughout the entire story, I found myself overwhelmingly sad. It was predictable, but not in a negative way. The world was one of overarching melancholy, feeling lonely and hollow.
The concept of the Giver and Receiver (the Giver being what the old Receiver calls himself) is explored in relation to an unfeeling society. At first glance, we see the family units sharing feelings daily, along with rituals of forgiveness, apology, and affection. As Jonas gets more memories — things like riding a sled, a broken bone, or war — he realizes that all the emotions being felt around his community are merely facades of what they could be. Jonas can see color, which has been bled out of his comrades, who ostensibly see only in black and white.
I think the culture presented in The Giver is something that will always be relevant, as humans often seek to escape the truly powerful bad emotions, and often are willing to sacrifice the height of the good to avoid the depths of the bad. For this culture, removing war, poverty, hunger, and a variety of lesser evils from their society was worth losing true joy, love, excitement, and contentment.
Since the community doesn’t really feel, they have no concept of true emotion. It’s hard to understand depth of emotion if your most intense feeling is mild frustration. One interesting facet is the focus on precision of language and how it removed the so-called vague word “love” from their diction. Jonas’ mother calls love “a very generalized word, so meaningless that it has become almost obsolete.” The control of language in this way is similar to Orwell’s 1984.
The ending of the story felt a bit sudden. Jonas flees the community with no preparation and just pedals his bike into the middle of nowhere. Though he and the Giver had planned to have him escape so that the memories he had absorbed would flow back into the community, I almost feel like the Giver knew quite well that Jonas would end up dying (I interpret the ending of the book as a death, though same may not). My feeling is that the Giver knows only by letting those memories leak back in will society begin to feel again, and the more experienced Receiver is the one that must work to heal the panic that will pour through the community. I don’t think this is malicious, but a calculated sacrifice — Jonas becomes the true Giver, in a sense.
For me, the author’s main point is that the essence of humanity comes from a variety of vibrant emotions. Passion, love, and joy will always have the opportunity to be skewed for different circumstances, even if we attempt to create a utopia. Perhaps eliminating these feelings is the only way to prevent the more unfortunate feelings. Are fleeting moments of happiness worth experiencing pain and discomfort?
Though the story has some issues, I do think this is a READ, if not simply for the emotions it evoked for me. I don’t think this would have been as interesting or meaningful had I read it in middle school, though.