Tuesday, March 25, 2014
The Giver was written by Lois Lowry. It was published by Laurel-Leaf in 1993.
The Giver, which won the 1994 Newberry Medal and the 1994 Regina Medal, is a highly acclaimed book for young adults. It describes the perfect world of Jonas, his family, and friends. In the world they live in, referred to as "Sameness", there is no pain or worry. There is no torture, war, loss or loneliness. There is also no love, joy, color or music. None of the community members know of any of these things, as it has been wiped out by the genetic scientists. When they chose to move to the idea of Sameness, they gave up all of the memories that would allow them to remember anything good or bad, including sunshine, snow and hills.
Every December, the children (who are all born by birth mothers and given to 'family units' after the family applies for one) have their aging ceremony. At each age level, all of the children get the same thing. For example, at age seven, the children receive a front buttoned jacket, signifying their move to independence. In the past, they had back buttoned jackets so that they could learn to help others. At age eight, they start volunteer hours and at age nine, they all received their own bicycles. The most important aging ceremony is when they turn twelve. At twelve years old, they are considered adults and get their job assignments. This year, Jonas turned twelve and he has been selected to be the Receiver of Memories. He is now one of the only two people who will know about all of the good and bad in the world.
When The Giver begins to work with Jonas, he shows him all of the wonderful happenings in the world, including sunshine, sled riding, flowers, rainbows, and love. As the training continues, he has to show Jonas all of the negative aspects of the old world. War, loneliness, hunger, torture and hatred. This was incredibly hard for The Giver and for Jonas, as they could feel the pain of the people in the memories. Without giving away what happens with the rest of the book, I just want to say that I applaud Jonas for the person he is and the decisions he made throughout the book.
As I read The Giver, I couldn't help wonder what a world like theirs would be like. No war. No pain. No hunger or racism or solitude. What if? I asked myself. What if all of our communities were set up the way this one was. What if we had no choice in the children we get (not that we get much of a choice now), the spouse we receive, the places that we live or the jobs we have? What if everyone was nice, respectful, worked for a living and helped to support the community? What if we had no memories of the past and couldn't comprehend ideas such as war or peace? Love or hate? Gratitude or thanklessness? On the surface, it seems good. You know what to expect. You know you will be taken care of. You know that you will have two children -- a boy and a girl, and you are respected and believed in throughout your life. But, knowing what I do in real life, I know, as Jonas learned, that life should be so much more.
As I was reading, two thoughts went through my head over and over. The first was that I felt as though The Giver and Jonas' relationship reminded me of Dumbledore and Harry Potter. Obviously, since The Giver was written first, Lowry did not intend on that comparison, but they are who I pictured as I read about The Giver's meetings with Jonas. When The Giver transferred his first memory to Jonas, it was similar to the scene when Dumbledore gave his first memory to Harry. The second thought that continued to strike me was the comparison I made to Heaven and Hell. Religion teaches that for there to be a Heaven, there must also be a Hell. After Jonas was given the memories, he wanted to community to change. He wanted to give all of the people the memories, but he couldn't because they would not have been able to handle the bad memories. This made me think of Heaven and Hell because they couldn't be separated. With one comes the other, so he just couldn't give them either.
Many of the aspects of this community wouldn’t be tolerated today. The idea that kids would bathe adults would be considered perverse today. In our society, children becoming adults at age twelve is unacceptable. “Thank you for your childhood” was such a powerful statement for me. Before I had children, it may not have affected me, but knowing what a joyous time childhood is and how innocent they should be, I felt bad for the children needing to move on to their adult lives. Responsibility within the family and community? Yes. Responsible for a career? No.
I had many questions as I read through The Giver. Why aren’t they allowed to have real feelings? I felt that it was quite ironic that they would “share feelings” every night when they did not have the memories to truly understand those feelings. They didn’t know what real anger, sadness, excitement or happiness was, so why did the Elders make them do it? I also questioned what a release was for most of the book. When The Giver began his training with Jonas and he says, “It’s like going downhill through deep snow on a sled. At first it’s exhilarating: the speed; the sharp, clear air; but then the snow accumulates, builds up on the runner, and you slow, you have to push hard to keep going and –“ and Jonas didn’t know what he was talking about, I was shocked. My draw dropped and I had to reread what was happening. How could he not know what these things are? How has the elimination of snow, sleds, hills (and later I realized, sun, wind, rainbows) helpful? How does it make them live a better life? I don’t think that it does. I feel as though the Elders wanted to have so much control over them that they had to take away anything that could be considered joyful.
I also questioned the ‘release.’ At the beginning, I assumed that it was death, but when Jonas was talking about Roberto’s release and he asks, “What happens when they make the actual release? Where do they go?” I started to think that something other than death happened in this alternate world. Sadly, my initial thought was correct, and when Jonas realized the same thing, it was the major turning point within the book.
I feel as though The Giver makes us question what we could live with. If we had the choice, what would it be? If we could get rid of all of the negative in our lives, would we, if it meant we get rid of much of the positive as well? I wouldn’t. I would keep the ups and downs; the wonder and emotions. I would want to feel my life, good or bad.
If you would like to read The Giver, you can find it at your local library. Look here to see where the closest location is. I also found a Webquest for The Giver, which would allow students to explore the book and answer questions. It was created by Emily Ferris, Sarah Hertzog, and Christina Kline and you can find it here.