What would it be like to live in a world with no crime, no racism, no discontent? How would it feel to get along with everyone and have everyone get along with you? What if there were no poverty, sickness, or uncertainty? Would all of this be worth it if no one felt desire, love, or joy? What if the cost of peace was absolute numbness?
That is the kind of world that Jonas lives in. The Giver is set in a community that wants to control everything. And when I say everything I mean everything. Jonas is about to turn 12 and knows that things are going to change because he is going to find out what his occupation will be for the rest of his life. He understands that changes happen for the good of the community but these changes are expected and normal. However Jonas is starting to notice something new, something intriguing and confusing, but he has no words to describe what is happening.
Then the Ceremony day finally arrives when Jonas receives his assignment and he forgets all about the odd things he’s been noticing when he’s announced to be the Receiver of Memories. This is an occupation Jonas isn’t familiar with but he accepts the assignment as is expected of him. Little does he know that this is the moment that will change the course of his life.
It’s only logical that a receiver would need someone to give to them. This is where the Giver comes in. He is an elderly man who has been carrying around the memories of the distant past in order to retain the Sameness of the community they live in. He now starts to give Jonas these memories and Jonas starts to realize that the confusing and intriguing thing he’s been noticing is color. It is also through these memories that he realizes he’s never experienced true joy, sorrow, pain, and love before. He also understands that his family and friends have never felt these things either. In fact, he realizes that they will never experience true emotion while the memories of the past are kept from them. During one particularly disturbing scene Jonas understands that they are capable of murder with no remorse. Jonas and the Giver decide they must put an end to the dangerous Sameness of the community. They are willing to sacrifice themselves to make this so.
The Giver is an excellent book that has fostered many discussions on right and wrong. It raises the question of what price should we pay for peace? Should we sacrifice all emotion and beauty for the sake of never being hurt? And can we truly feel joy and pleasure if we never feel sorrow and pain? If it would mean the end to all crime and war, would we give up our individual rights to make our own decisions?
Even though this book is relatively short and easy to read, this book’s heavy topics lend itself to deep philosophical discussions. I think that is why it is an award winner and still assigned reading at school. However, I do think it belongs in the upper middle to lower high school classrooms, not in the elementary classrooms like I usually see.
To watch a book trailer for The Giver click here.
Watch an interview with Lois Lowry about The Giver here.