Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
Publication Date: Reissue September 2012
Audience: Ages 10 and up
The Giver, the 1994 Newbery Award winner, has sold over eight million copies worldwide, been translated into at least 20 languages, and is required reading in most upper elementary or middle school classes. It is often seen as the genesis of young adult dystopian novels that are so popular today. It is also one of the most widely banned or challenged books on school library shelves. When Lowry ended The Giver she said it was finished; she had no plans for a sequel. Time, innumerable requests from readers, and possibly the death of her son, an Army pilot, prompted her to reconsider. Gathering Blue was published in 2000; Messenger in 2004. Son, 2012, brings The Giver quartet to its close. The four books can be read as independent stories; The Giver and Son are more closely related than the middle two volumes. All four occur in roughly the same time period in three different settings with several of the main characters appearing in each of the volumes. While Lowry’s, direct, clear prose is accessible to good upper elementary readers, the themes of this quartet are most appropriate for middle school and beyond.
Summary: In some distant, undated future, Jonas lives securely with his family in a community where everyone has food, clothes, shelter, education, and an assigned work for life. It is also a controlled community without color, animals, seasons, music, love, or choice, a community of sameness. At age twelve Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, the most honored role in the community. He prepares for this task by meeting with the Giver, an elder, who holds in himself all the memories of the past and the wisdom that comes with them, for this is a community that has chosen to live without the pain or joy of memory. The Giver recognizes in Jonas the gift of “seeing beyond,” first indicated by his ability to see color. He transmits to Jonas by touch memories -of joy, family holidays, seasons, sailing, sledding, pain, warfare, loneliness, hunger, and cruelty. In his time with the Giver,, Jonas learns the high cost of the peace and security of his village. Those who are old, new children who have special needs, those who are disruptive are “released,” a euphemism for lethal injection. Jonas and Giver begin to plan how Jonas might escape to Elsewhere and how the community could be freed for a richer life. These plans are disrupted because Jonas must rescue the toddler, Gabriel, from release. Jonas abandons the careful plans for escape in order to leave immediately with Gabe. Bicycling by day, hiding by night, Jonas and Gabe finally encounter snow and the promise of Elsewhere.
Literary elements at work in the story: Lois Lowry, with powerful imagination and literary skill, has created a dystopian society that lulls and deceives with its peace and security while subtly destroying the capacity to know, to feel, to establish relationships. Her clear, matter-of-fact prose brings the community to life in almost a monotone. This community has technical resources-the ability to control climate, to eliminate color- that are implied and are an important aspect of dystopian fiction, but Lowry gives few details about these. No summary can do justice to this tense, well-plotted novel.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? In this community there are few differences. Birthmother is considered an inferior role but in most instances male and female are equal. All are provided with the same food, clothes and houses. Intellectual ability distinguishes some community members; non-conformists are simply removed. Members are unaware of other cultures or a world outside their own.
Theological Conversation Partners: The Giver is a goldmine of theological themes for Christians to explore: memory, vocation, gifts, love, relationships, the ability to choose, the value of life, the ideal community. The Bible calls us to remember. ( Ex, 13:3; Lk. 22:14-19). What happens when we suppress memory? Each Christian has a vocation and a gift? Paul speaks of his call, of the gifts that are given to the church community by the Spirit.(1 Cor.12:4-7) Jesus calls us to a life of persecution and hardship and is called “The Suffering Servant;” the community plans so that there will be no hardship or difficulties. (Matt. 5:10,11) Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God and taking life is forbidden in the Decalogue. This community eliminates life that is disruptive or a drain on its resources.. The Kingdom of God is a central biblical concept, a time when God’s justice and love will be the basis of community, when God’s will is done. Historically groups have tried to plan perfect communities and they have always failed or lost more than they gained. In what way does the Kingdom of God differ from these utopias? Does God’s will established mean there are no choices?
Faith Talk Questions:
- What good things do you see about the community in which Jonas lives?
- What things are undesirable?
- Why is memory essential to a community and why has this community limited memories to just one person?
- How many decisions rest in the hands of the Committee of Elders? Why does Jonas think, at first, that this is a good thing? Are mistakes a necessary part of life?
- While family units are important in the community, is there any mention of marriage or love? Did these units work well? How were spouses chosen? Is there any good in this system?
- Is it possible to have meaningful relationship without risk or pain?
- Is there such a thing as a disruptive life? A life that costs too much to maintain?
- Jonas had a special gift that enabled him to see beyond his community of sameness. Paul suggests that every Christian has a gift for the enrichment of the church. Do you recognize gifts in others in the church? In yourself?
- The Christian’s term for the ideal community is the Kingdom of God. How would it differ from Jonas’s community?
- On what basis was a life work assigned in the community? How will you choose your vocation? What part does the church have in guiding your vocational choice?
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.
The Giver by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.