May 2, 2017 by femvestige
I finished The Giver by Lois Lowry last month and have taken quite a bit of time to digest it as I have been struggling to identify how I felt about the book. It is a truly fascinating concept, but there are certain elements I am unsure about.
A general summary of our book:
We follow Jonas, a 12-year-old boy in a utopian world where each age level in adolescence is honored in the month of December with something new to prepare them for adulthood. When a child move’s from the age 6 level to the age 7 level, they get to add pockets to their clothing so they have the responsibility of caring for their possessions, and age 8’s get bicycles. Age 12 is the biggest age level because every child receives their career path and spends the year of 12 learning the qualities and skills necessary to fulfill their career. Jonas receives the career of ‘The Receiver of Memory’ which is very honored and unknown to all. Career paths can include a caregiver (one who cares for the elderly), a nurturer (one who cares for infants), a mother (one who births children), and a laborer (construction, etc).
Jonas meets with the current Receiver of Memory who tells Jonas to call him ‘the Giver.’ He learns that he will be receiving and keeping memories of the past to provide counsel to the leadership of their little community should an issue arise. It is through the memories as Jonas is exposed to things he never knew existed that we learn how truly deprived this ‘Utopia’ is.
One of the first things Jonas notices is color. Jonas starts to see the color red in an apple, then in his friend’s hair, then in the faces and skin tones of those within his community. The community in the past made everything ‘same’ in order to prevent people from having a choice because it was safer. This is where I start questioning the world that was created – are we to assume that this world is black and white? The biggest thing that causes me to question this validity is the fact that Jonas has different eyes than others. If everything is supposed to be ‘sameness,’ then why did the leaders in the community allow Jonas to have different eyes? Hmm…
One of the things to note about ‘sameness’ and ‘different’ is that anything that goes against the grain is punishable. If someone asks or does something ‘rude’ they must apologize immediately or be reprimanded. After too many transgressions, a person will be ‘released.’ The concept of release is questioned many times throughout the course of the book.
Another thing to take note of is that a community is built upon family units – when you are old enough you can apply for a spouse. Once you have created a unit of two, you can apply for up to two children, and they are granted and provided to you from the nurturers. Jonas has a younger sister, and his family is caring for an infant who is more fussy and difficult to care for – and is potentially up for release. His father is trying to provide extra nurturing to this child (Gabriel) in hopes he can save it from being released. This is important because Jonas starts giving memories to the baby Gabriel to help him sleep, and eventually undergoes drastic measures to save him.
The general premise of this book is that Jonas starts questioning his society and community he lives in as he begins to learn about things that make a world diverse – emotion (pain, love, despair, guilt, grief), color, and changing weather such as snow or the sunshine. He begins to question this with The Giver and they begin thinking of a plan to try and change what is to what was.
Things that bothered me about this society:
There are several things that bother me now that I’ve had time to pin it down what exactly they are. I’ll start here:
What bothers me about this quote is that these people never had a choice. Also, being in the line of social work that I am – it makes me believe that this could be a reference to people with autism – which in and of itself makes this disturbing. It’s so small a comment that you might miss it, but it’s there. Of course, I understand this book is about what is wrong with the ‘utopian’ society they live in, and I recognize that. It still doesn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable with this.
The precision of language is emphasized constantly in this book, and what confuses and/or frustrates me is that ‘love’ is not considered a good use of language. If the emotion of ‘love’ is taken away – then how do they even know that the word exists? When Jonas asked ‘do you love me?’ I thought his parents would be confused about the word. ‘Enjoyment’ is broader than love, and is an emotion. I certainly understand what Lowry was doing here, but I still feel like there were loose ends the could have been tied tighter.
3. This is the most disturbing part for me, and it is not explained clearly enough for me. When Jonas starts getting ‘stirrings’ of sexual desire and attraction to his friend, he is immediately given a pill that quiets those feelings. His mother said that both she and her father and everyone they know once they start feeling the ‘stirrings’ have to take it. Ok. So this spawns these questions for me:
- When you apply for a spouse, do you not have any physical intimacy or do you stop taking your pill for a night? Is there contraceptive? Or does the pill stop the stirrings all together to prevent icky things like feelings to occur?
- The giver will have memories of sexual desire and intimacy – does he pursue this with his own spouse as he understands what it means? Is his own relationship different?
- If a child is chosen as a mother – is this because she is ‘fertile’ and this utopian has found a way to control the population by controlling fertility in its women? How is a child chosen to be a mother? Is it artificial insemination? Or are they similar to ‘the handmaiden’ in that they are the only ones in the population having sex or being raped to continue a population? Is there a designated ‘father’ career to be a sperm donor? Where does the sperm come from? What does this look like?
As you can see, there are way too many questions regarding this specific point in the book, and it is seriously disturbing to me.
4. Finally, the ending bothers me the most. Are we in a memory? Is Jonas fading? Or did he really find what he was looking for?
Truly, this book is excellent and it serves the purpose of making one look at the differences and beauties of a diverse society. I was never required to read this in primary or undergrad, but I can see why it would be on an academic reading list. Honestly – this should be required reading for all of America right now. This is not a society I wish to live in.
Rating out of 5: ✮✮✮✮
Dates Read: 04/12/2017-04/15/2017
Character Development: B
Best Feature: Amazing concept and visualization
Worst Feature: Disturbing and unexplained elements. Some inconsistent/untied loose ends.