Posted by: Corina Paraschiv | November 3, 2008

The Giver by Lois Lowry

You know, it’s quite funny – the looks I got when people saw me reading The Giver was somewhat in the range of amused.  You see, people have read the Giver when they were in elementary or in high school, and I’m 22 years old.  It easily gets dismissed as an easy read.  For all those who read this book, I suggest we take a new reading axis on it : Giftedness and Society, in The Giver.

Colors as a symbol of difference

I think though that this book is a particularly deep book.  This theme of colors and seeing colors that no one else sees, seems interesting in the light of the other short story I had read in my Italian class, the Colors of Life.  It is a metaphore that is easily used to show the loneliness of people who perceive what others around them don’t, or more simply put, who interpret reality differently.  Free thinkers, creative people, unconventional people.

Difference ignored in Society

In the Giver, this theme is particularly reinforced by the power Jonas has to access dreams and information that is “more real” than the illusion everyone lives in – a parallel you can find in other novels with dreams in The Dream Hunter by Elizabeth Knox and with the Alethiometer in The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – and by the Sameness, which is the basic idea a successful society should be built on homogeneity.  To an extent, I wonder how much resemblance there was between the community described in The Giver and the practical applications of Communism and socialism in countries such as Rumania, Russia, Cuba…  and how were the intellectual elites, who were threaten because of the dangereous knowledge they held, seeing and feeling reality when everyone around them saw it differently.  In that sense, the book is reminiscent of 1984 and Brave New World.

Giftedness and its Consequences

And of course if we want to talk about overexcitabilities, that’s also quite the book for it…  The relationship between “seeing reality” differently from others (colors), feeling different, feeling lonely, being more sensitive than others are all interconnected in this book.  Could Jonas be Gifted?

The interesting thing to consider in that case is how he deals with it.  Throughout the book he tries first to fit in by acting like everyone else and ignoring his gift.  He later tries lying and using the same vocabulary as everyone around himself even though he does have a sense of difference.  Later, still, he tries to share it unsuccessfully with his friends and family – just the good sides of it – and he fails, again.  He then starts sharing it with people who are like him, people with pale eyes : Gabriel and the Giver.  That makes him feel a little better, but he still feels the need to do more.  At the end completely, when he leaves the community, he is, in a way, sharing it with everyone in a way that they can understand, too.  Then only he starts having peace of mind.  I think whenever I am in a classroom or in a company working, I don’t have a desire to simply sit down at a table and think oh what am I doing here with all these people around me – I think my real desire is to be part of the community I live in, be fully part of my school, and workplace, engaged, present, accepted, loved.


Other reading axis

In case you want to explore just a few themes, here’s what Sparknotes and Cliff’s Notes highlights :

  • Relationship between pain and pleasure
  • Importance of the individual
  • Nakedness and Freedom
  • The eye colors and the Gift of seeing beyond (Giver, Gabe, and Jonas all had pale eyes)
  • Elimination of any differences between Men and Women in the book (gender equality? always?)
  • Is our society prohibiting certain experiences (drugs, …) the same way that feelings and memories were prohibited for Jonas’ society?  How is it similar, or different?
  • Sexuality in Brave New World vs The Giver
  • Are there any aspects of Jonas’ community that were imperfect but that weren’t actually criticized by the author?  What aspects were criticized?  Hypocrisy and lack of honesty?  Lack of freedom?  Censorship?  What else?
  • Jonas’ world : Utopia or dystopia?

And a last thought that is worth reflecting on is : ” Among other things, The Giver is the story of Jonas’s development into an individual, maturing from a child dependent upon his community into a young man with unique abilities, dreams, and desires. The novel can even be seen as an allegory for this process of maturation: twelve-year-old Jonas rejects a society where everyone is the same to follow his own path. The novel encourages readers to celebrate differences instead of disparaging them or pretending they do not exist. People in Jonas’s society ignore his unusual eyes and strange abilities out of politeness, but those unusual qualities end up bringing lasting, positive change to the community.”  (Sparknotes)

THINGS TO DO ONCE YOU’VE READ THE BOOK

Some cool thing you can try now that you’ve read this, the Random House official website suggests, is to create you own story with an ambiguous ending.  And ambiguous is a very well chosen word indeed : two people this week told me Jonas died at the end.  And when I got to the end of the book I was confused because he clearly isn’t dead.  But searching on Internet I realized opinions of many readers were divided on the question and Lois Lowry herself, the author, has refused to provide any definitive interpretation of the end of the story.  I think learning to cope with ambiguity is a very important practice.

You can also think about this, the website also suggests : The words that constitute the precision of language are in fact not precise at all : released (p. 2), feelings (p. 4), animals (p. 5), Nurturer (p. 7), Stirrings (p. 37), replacement child (p. 44), and Elsewhere (p. 78). Is it not interesting to see how the words used had an actual role in how people perceived reality?  Why use euphemism?  Why were the words used ambiguous and less precise (think of that scene where Jonas’ mom explains to Jonas that the question “Do you love me?” is much too imprecise and that it should be rephrased as “do you enjoy my company” or “are you proud of my accomplishments”).  What is the relationships between our thoughts and our ideas?  Does language help us fit into a given society?

If you feel inspired, try drawing a picture or making a digital collage to represent the most striking aspect or theme in the book.  How are you going to incorporate the colors?

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Responses

  1. […] The Giver by Lois Lowry (Comments here) […]

  2. yes it was such a good book. I have read it in the 8th grade. I really hoped they would have a movie to it, it would have been an amazing movie.

    meanwhile, if you liked that book you might like “My brother Sam is Dead” that was a very nice book I have read too.

    • My Brother Sam is Dead was a good book. Currently I am finishing the Giver. Jonas recives the Reciver of Memory when he was 12. And Sam dies because he was accused of stealing the cattle and was shot in the chest.

  3. i loooooooooooooooooovvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeee the giver its the best book i’ve ever read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. fancy book indeed


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