The Giver will forever (at least, foreseeably) be my favorite dystopian novel. It was the novel that caused my 11-12-year-old self fall in love with reading. The power of the individual to take down an entire society led by adults appealed to my rebellious spirit. It was relatable to me that adults would rob youths of their freedoms under the guise of protecting them (I felt so oppressed… looking back, I have no idea why!). In this book, these adults do it to other adults and even themselves, so ignorant to what they are actually doing, and the author masterfully presents the problematic nature of this “protection.” Through this perceived protection, there is a clear clash of the themes of taking and giving.
Early on, it presents the reader with the bizarre consumption of the society’s citizens, starting with its youth. When Twelve’s receive their job assignment, the elder states, “Thank you for your childhood” to each Twelve, as if the society has bought the individual’s childhood, as if it’s being consumed, and now, the Twelve has lost it in exchange for an assignment he or she didn’t even choose. Growing up, the society prepares them for this moment, and beats them with a stick to get rid of their individualism, such as Asher’s misspoken pronouncement of “smack” instead of “snack,” a story the auditorium good-naturedly laughs at, but is cruel from the reader’s perspective.
Later, the reader learns just how cruel the society is and how much their “Sameness” is costing its citizens. Jonas, through the Giver’s memories, learns how the Sameness takes away choices. In response, he says, “I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! A blue tunic or a red one… I know it doesn’t matter, but—” He stops, not understanding why he’s frustrated.
The Giver replies, “It’s the choosing that’s important isn’t it?”
These lack of choices are for the citizens’ protection; Jonas, a model brainwashed citizen, states with confidence that if a citizen had a choice, “He might make the wrong choices,” but Sameness has led to taking these away. In doing so, they also took away memories and made feelings more shallow in order that everyone feel and be equal. Near the end of the novel, Jonas realizes his own father, presumably ignorant of the cost of his actions, is a part of the murdering of infants, anyone too fussy or weak or identical. Sharing of memories and the suppression of feeling makes the citizens unable to construct deeper feelings. The society has consumed genuine feelings and meaningful memories from its citizens to eliminate discomfort and disunity. In doing so, Jonas learns from the Giver’s memories, that they have sacrificed emotions and meaningful connections, including feeling love. In one heartbreaking scene Jonas asks his parents, “Do you love me?” to which they reply, “Jonas! Accuracy of language!” His parents are offended by their son asking if they love him, horrified that anyone would feel that way about another. They correct him by suggesting they feel “fond” of him. Jonas realizes this cost of love is too much.
In contrast, the novel highlights the theme and reward of giving, even of pain. Often, the author has Jonas and the Giver express that “the worst part of holding memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” Jonas, originally required by society to share feelings at the dinner table, realizes as he acquires his memories from the Giver that he’s frustrated he can’t share them like he used to. He feels isolated from his family. Jonas realizes their feelings are shallow and not meaningful at all. He even realizes when he spends time with his closest friends that he cannot bond with them. Their feelings are also too shallow; their lack of memories and knowledge of the past are vacant, causing an inability for Jonas to connect with them.
Through these scenes, Lowry illustrates how Jonas’s required isolation from society is not physical. It stems from his requirement to not share the memories. But this is enough. Jonas is alone in his society because, again, “memories are meant to be shared,” and the reader gets a vivid image of the therapeutic nature of this. Jonas, the Receiver, receives memories from the Giver in much the same way a client receives therapy from a therapist, lying down on a bed. In a scene where the Giver is overwhelmed with grief from a memory, Jonas pleads with the Giver to share the memory. Once he does, the Giver’s grief subsides and, although shaken from the shocking grief of the memory, Jonas was happy to receive the memory for the Giver’s sake. They are now both able to bear the grief, despite the weight of it. These scenes communicate the value of giving and sharing of memories, even the painful ones. Real feelings such as love and grief are perhaps equally strong, but also equally meant to be shared.
Lois Lowry understood and helps readers understand the value of memories and their roles in who we are as humans. This novel communicates the value that we must have for human life, for our history, and for each other. Choice is important, and Jonas’s choice to care for Gabe—the weakest in his community—and for his community as a whole shows that individuals can be accountable and influential enough to make a difference. Hanging onto memories of the good of humanity, he could make a step forward in fixing the bad. Memories are meant to be shared and are meaningful to the present.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ashley Yarbrough is a writer, mother, teacher, gardener, and many other things. She writes about it all here: https://mamahoodmemoirsblog.wordpress.com. Feel free to take a look!