Friday, November 16, 2007

The Giver

Lowry, Lois. 1993. The Giver. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0329379259

Plot summary
Twelve year old Jonas lives in a perfect world. His world is so perfect that he never has to make a choice or decision about anything. Everything is decided for him, even his job. However, once he begins his job training, he realizes that he wants choices, and his world is not perfect. This is a story of struggle as Jonas learns that his world is not all there is to living.

Critical analysis
When I began reading this book, I thought this imaginary world that Lowry creates was sterile. I didn't think I would like reading about this perfect futuristic world. Every aspect of life is controlled. "Life here is so orderly, so predictable--so painless" (103). There are ceremonies to commemorate naming, aging, job placement, and even dying (which is referred to as a "releasing"). There is a loud speaker that reminds the community of infractions against the rules. Any infraction "infringed on the community's sense of order and success" (46).

I was intrigued by the title and needed to find out more about Jonas the more I read. Would he be a giver? What would he give? However, in these twenty-three unnamed chapters, I learned that Jonas first became a receiver so that later he, too, could be a giver.

As Jonas begins his training as Receiver of Memory, "the most honored [job] in our community"(61), I realize that the word of Sameness that Lowry creates means there is no color in the world. There also is no choice or decision making. Once Jonas learns of these things, he begins to question his own world. He desires choices. There are no talking animals in the story, but there are magical beings. The Giver touches Jonas to give him memories of times past.

The aspect of good versus evil is present in this story. Jonas must decide that everything he has been taught from birth might be a lie. "Now Jonas had a thought that he had never had before. This new thought was frightening....What if they had all been instructed: You may lie?" (71). His own first lie comes almost sixty pages later when he lies to his parents.

Lowry capitalizes words like Sameness and Elsewhere to indicate their importance to the community's balance. "If you don't fit in, you can apply for Elsewhere and be released" (48). This sounds like a desirable option until you learn later in the book was exactly the releasing process is. When Jonas questions what happens to the things he sees in the memories, the Giver explains what happened to those things. "Climate control. Snow made growing food difficult...It wasn't a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness" (84).

Jonas might be considered an archetypal hero because he does cross the threshold of safety into an unknown world where he is able to survive the trials of the new environment. His adventure really begins with the first realization that his world is not the entire world. As he learns more memories, he becomes frustrated at his surroundings and wants to escape. The Giver (the protective figure) and Jonas form a plan, and Jonas takes the baby Gabriel (symbolic of hope for new generations) to Elsewhere. However, Jonas does not return home. In fact, Lowry leaves the ending open. The reader does not know if Jonas and Gabriel die, or if they become part of a new town that is not in Sameness.

When my students noticed I was reading this book, many commented that they loved this book or it was one of their favorite books. I was surprised by some of the students that commented because they are not necessarily the strongest of readers, but they remembered this book. I felt that I had to see what they liked so much and why this book left such a positive memory with them. When I finished the book, I had many questions. I wondered if a world like this could exist one day. What would I have done in Jonas' position? What would happen if people stopped caring for one another? I was able to talk about this book to my students that read this book and make another connection with them. I also think our conversations piqued curiosity in those students that have not read the book.

Review excerpts

PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY: "A storyline that hints at Christian allegory and an eerie futuristic setting."

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "The author makes real abstract concepts, such as the meaning of a life in which there are virtually no choices to be made and no experiences with deep feelings. This tightly plotted story and its believable characters will stay with readers for a long time."


*Have a discussion about whether or not this type of society could exist and/or survive. What if you didn't have memories? How could a Committee of Elders become a true controlling force in society? What would you do in Jonas' position? What if no one could lie? What is a "perfect world"?

*Read other books about futuristic societies (i.e., Vonnegut, Bradbury, Orwell) and compare what the authors' visions for society include. Have some of these writers accurately predicted our reality?

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