Lois Lowry-The Giver

Themes Explored: dystopia, oppression, coming-of-age, memories, relationship between pain and pleasure, individuality, vision, nakedness, mystery, teenage angst, language control, society, culture, utopia, censorship, restriction

Synopsis: Jonas’s world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back. (from Goodreads)

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Review: Jonas lives in the perfect society: no pain, crime, or unhappiness. On his twelfth birthday, he receives his life assignment to be the Receiver of Memories. During his training, he discovers secrets about the past and the horrific choices that make his utopian society possible. This training consists of the Giver of memory transferring memories of the past to Jonas. All these memories detail life before the sameness: war, hunger, disease, color, weather, and emotions. The problem: as the training progresses, Jonas realizes that society is missing something important. Lois Lowry created a world devoid of anything recognizable to modern society. Instead of families, there are family units and all the children are born to women who are designated to be birth mothers. So none of the siblings are actually related to one another or their parents. Also, everyone looks the exact same since science has eradicated unique hair, skin, and eye color. While The Giver is generally marketed towards the teenager market, the book has enough depth to appeal to any fan of dystopian fiction.

The Giver explores a utopian/dystopian society that strives for fairness. This society manages to keep the story thought-provoking and unique amongst a myriad of similar novels.  Lowry also strives to keep the ending as ambiguous as possible, which is quite frustrating but a good way to end the novel. There are three other books in The Giver Quartet but I still think the first novel is the best one. Jonas’ world has some appeal: the community functions by common agreements to abide by the rules, freedom is sacrificed for security, and joy over the avoidance of misery. The community made these choices in order to avoid the lows of life by eradicating all the highs. This causes society to emphasize the mediocrity of life to the extreme. As Jonas learns more about what society has lost, he ultimately comes to reject the reality society forced upon him.  After all, who wants to live in a world devoid of any excitement or exhilaration? Especially after finding out that there is an alternative to the grayness of a society bent upon making everyone absolutely equal.

Jonas’ training consists of The Giver transferring memories of the past into his sub consciousness. Over time Jonas comes to understand and resent the choices that were made to create a perfect society and the secrets behind the sameness. The Giver is a narrative driven by morals and a boy questioning why society is free of crime and sadness. All children are assigned their function in society at the age of twelve and have to stay in those professions for the rest of their lives. Everything is chosen from parents to partners. This regimented society is both good and bad for society, while everyone is protected from harm, they are also not allowed to experience any of the wonderful aspects of life. Even the word love has been eradicated from the common language because it is imprecise and ambiguous in meaning. The future seems bleak and gray, which is the whole point of the narrative. As Jonas learns more about the way the world used to be, he struggles to stay within the boundaries of his society. And this causes tension between him and his friends because he wants to open their eyes but struggles to convince them. Eventually, Jonas has to decide to continue living in a society that restricts individuality or change the world.

Overall, I enjoyed The Giver because the narrative is complex enough to stay interesting but has quick pacing. Lowry gives Jonas some great character development. He goes from being a scared young boy to someone who his willing to rick his future in order to save the community. His development is wonderful to read and he is a great character. Though he sometime seems a little too mature for a twelve year old. The movie depicts Jonas’ as a sixteen year old in order to feel more realistic. Also, the novel is a great allegory for growing up: at first everyone is scared to accept the realities of growing up, but as everyone moves away from childhood, they crave more adult responsibilities.  Well, most people do, some people struggle to abandon childhood. The narrative also shows the transition from the mind of an innocent child to the questioning and educated mind of a well-adjusted adult. Lowry also leaves the ending purposefully ambiguous:  Jonas and Gabriel either freeze to death or find the elusive “Elsewhere”. Ultimately, the ending is supposed to show that Jonas made his own choices rather than let someone else order him around. Whatever happens, his life outside the community then it ever was while stuck inside. In case it was not obvious, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to any fan of the dystopian genre. I also recommend the movie, it is a fairly decent adaption.

Reading Order:

  • The Giver, Ember, 2006, ISBN 9780385732550
  • Gathering Blue, Ember, 2006, ISBN 9780385732567
  • Messenger, Ember, 2006, ISBN 9780385732536
  • Son, HMH Books, 2012, ISBN 9780547887203
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