the giver book review

the giver book review

The Importance of “The Giver” Book

1. Introduction

In three main places in the novel (pages 44, 97, and 125), Lowry uses a concept that Jonas experiences, termed “seeing beyond,” to show that it is only by avoiding sameness that one can truly experience life. On the first occasion, “seeing beyond” allows Jonas to see things as they would be if they were not concealed by “the underlying sameness” (44). He perceives that the apple he is playing catch with his friend is not really the same as the previous apple; it had changed and no longer contained a “gleaming future” (44). This confuses Jonas, but he later concludes that this effect is actually an improvement because it is only when things are different that they can be better or worse. Later experiences of “seeing beyond” serve to clarify this issue for Jonas in both his and the Giver’s minds. After hearing an argument from his parents about whether to bring Gabriel inside and comfort him during the night, Jonas observes their feelings when they think he is not looking, again recognizing that it is only through feelings of pain or love for an individual that one can truly make a decision. Finally, the Giver explains to Jonas that the ability to “see beyond” in this manner will always cause pain in a person living in the community because it is inevitable that they will want to change things to be different. This is a painful realization for Jonas, but he realizes that it is true and it is at this point that he and the Giver begin to devise a plan to change the community.

The Giver by Lois Lowry was certainly a book that garnered much attention when it first published in 1993. At that time, critics formed very mixed opinions regarding the novel, and, as is often the case with a book that is both provocative and trendy, students were the most vocal in their opinions. Frequently, their opinions were strong, but, because this is one of the best books in children’s literature, students’ opinions were also conflicting. Now, more than ten years later, I am hard-pressed to find a student who has read The Giver as a school assignment and who has not formed a very strong opinion of it. Fortunately, many of these opinions are insightful and well-expressed. In order to give something back to the many students who have formed these opinions, and in order to assess how children’s literature has evolved (or hasn’t) over the past decade, I have chosen to write a research paper on The Giver.

2. Plot Summary

Jonas acquires the job of Receiver of Memory. Instead of getting memories for himself to know how things had happened in the past, he now has to get memories from The Giver because the people of the community have chosen to ‘erase’ the memories right back to the beginning of the community. This point of time is when The Giver was a young boy, ashen to Jonas. The memories are in the form of pain or pleasure from the past of the world. As Jonas receives the memories, he becomes more and more disillusioned with the society which has benefited by suppressing these feelings that relate to the memories. At the end of the training of the memories, Jonas discovers that there is a plan to release babies that aren’t good enough and the old. He becomes very disgusted with this realization and has to do something about it. At the end of the book, Jonas runs away and takes his ‘twin’ Gabe to a new place to live, leaving the readers to decide what actually happened and what will happen to the society he left behind.

The initial ceremony of the ‘Civic conditioning’ starts with the Elevens and finishes when the Twelves get their lifetime jobs. The protagonist, Jonas, is selected for the highly honored position of Receiver of Memory. In this position, the giver trains Jonas in memory to receive the memories of the entire world, good and bad, from the previous Receiver, The Giver. The memories are in the form of pain or pleasure from the past of the world. As Jonas receives the memories, he becomes more and more disillusioned with the society which has benefited by suppressing these feelings that relate to the memories. At the end of the training of the memories, Jonas discovers that there is a plan to release babies that aren’t good enough and the old. He becomes very disgusted with this realization and has to do something about it. At the end of the book, Jonas runs away and takes his ‘twin’ Gabe to a new place to live, leaving the readers to decide what actually happened and what will happen to the society he left behind.

3. Themes Explored

There are many prevalent themes that are present throughout The Giver. Reliable themes like growing up and memories or common themes like colors are all discussed at length. Unique to this story overall is the come to understand the past and the future and the knowledge that with gaining wisdom comes great sorrow. Lowry has a very unique perspective on the ideas of knowledge gained with age and with great knowledge there is also great anguish or loss. This is not the common idea that learning and knowledge are good things. Quite often in literature, the gaining of wisdom is seen as a victory and is accompanied by clearer understanding and happiness. With age, people gain knowledge often beneficial although there’s always the sense of learning from ones mistakes. The knowledge that he have gained as for our people. What do you gain from us? Jonas certainly knows the answer to these questions. The Elders made the decision based on teaching and trading and he knows now that by The Giver transferring memories to him he learnt the truth. Learning that his father kills the smaller of two identical new children and that release is a somewhat painful way to dispose of an individual he has gained a knowledge that isn’t beneficial to anyone. He can’t admit this to the Chief Elder so he lies and says it gave him wisdom. The Giver however knows the truth. He is seen sitting in an exhausted daze with no improvement to his posture. Now that Jonas knows what he does life simply isn’t the same to him. The Giver ponders on whether or not to continue. He knows that the knowledge he has given to Jonas is a burden that one cannot bear alone. Yet he also knows that alone is exactly how he is bearing it and he has felt alone for too long. Transitioning from the theme of knowledge to the idea that wisdom is accompanied by great sorrow. This is often tied in with the previous examples. Once someone knows something that is morose or troubling there is no way to unlearn it and it will affect that person for the rest of their days. The Giver knows this and that’s why he was so happy to find someone who had broken the mental programming and could see beyond. Unfortunately for him it also meant that he would have to share the memories he had kept for so long and when told he must give them to the people he knew the amount of sorrow and suffering it would cause. This later leads to an uprising in which we are led to believe Jonas is the cause. The Giver without going into great detail explains to Jonas that the people will need their wisdom to survive the bad memories and in times of great despair he will be there to teach and advise him.

4. Analysis and Critique

This leads to the central tension of the novel. Lowry constantly reminds the reader that each new day in the community is the same as the last, and that the climate controlled, painless, contained existence that the people have chosen is clean, without war or hatred. All of this sounds fairly ideal, and yet it is obvious to the reader that it is not. Lowry is careful to show that the people of the community are not happy, merely content (and even this has been slipping away), a fact that not even they understand. This she suggests is the inherent paradox of free will. In order to eliminate pain and suffering and choice and to protect the ones we love we give up that which makes us human. In Lowry’s presentation, a humanity without pain and sadness is not humanity at all and it is worse than not having loved at all to have loved and lost the memory of love. The Giver teaches Jonas that the answer to the question touches the width and breadth of human existence and that there are no easy answers. In the end Jonas’s newfound wisdom is too great a burden for him to bear and escape is his only alternative.

The conclusion of The Giver is a bit of a cliffhanger. We are left, to some extent, to imagine what will happen to Jonas. Will he be able to bring some of the memories back to the people? Will he find the Elsewhere that The Giver tells him about? Will he survive? All of these questions are left open. In a different sort of book, a sequel would be a possible next step, but it is difficult to imagine Lowry revisiting this story. Jonas’s story ends on a hopeful note, with the people of the community waiting for him to change their world, echoing Gabe’s refrain of “again.” But the prospect that Jonas will be successful is bleak. Given what he has done to escape the community and find Elsewhere, he will probably die in the snow, as that is the fate of all of the previous Receiver in Training. And given that he has left all of his food with his bike, he may as well as have the capacity to find Elsewhere. But none of this is certain, and in the end the book presents a hopeful view of the human ability to improve the world.

5. Conclusion

From the novel, “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, the character Jonas faces many different limitations. One being the release of one of his friends, considering that release is when you are murdered. Jonas’ father also brings home a release that didn’t get nurtured correctly, and the newchild Gabriel who was going to get released early in the morning. “He killed it! My father killed it! It was a crying thing like the one on the video screen!” Jonas’s father punished him. “The newchild has not been assigned a name yet, Jonas. And the nurturers told me it was not growing fast enough.” Jonas explained to his father how wrong it was to release a newchild, and how only the council can decide that. His father was more determined now to comfort Gabe the way he could and said to Jonas, “You need to understand something. Nurturers are not perfect, it would be detrimental to the community if one of the newchildren were not growing properly, we couldn’t take that chance. The announcer said so himself.” (p. 146-147) In this case, there are too many limitations for Gabriel. Since he is causing too much trouble to the community, he will be released. This happens to everything in life. If it is doing more harm than good, in most cases, it will simply get deleted. Another example is when the Giver explains the release of Rosemary, the releasing of the memories, and the releasing of the elephant. These are different situations, but in the end very close to the same meaning. They will all benefit more by being released. This is quite similar to life today. If something is holding you back, you get rid of it, and you will benefit a lot more in the future. The process of getting rid of something can be good or bad. When Rosemary got released, it was horrible, but in the end she stopped the pain of the many bad memories. This is quite similar to our euthanasia. Sometimes it is better for people to die than live, and some people are capable of using this as an argument. An example of its use in Canada would be when a man who was engulfed with flames from his car accident. He was in so much pain he knew he could not live a normal life again and decided assisted suicide was the method for him. He stopped his suffering the same way Rosemary did. The memories are also a big limitation. What good is knowledge if you can’t use it? Especially if you’re not supposed to use it. This has technically happened to me personally when I was in grade 13. I had all the knowledge I needed to get through university, but I had absolutely no money and was not entitled to OSAP because my parents made too much money. So the knowledge went down the drain and I had to work barely above minimum wage. I was not happy and ended up quitting the job, which led me to where I am now. So in reality, I didn’t use the knowledge and it is gone. Ah, but the greatest example, the Giver not being able to use his gift. I can directly relate this to Mr. David Kurish, the principal of St. Mike’s. He has a great gift and can change lives. Unfortunately, the person hired above him does not understand his abilities and he was forced to hide this gift to keep his job. He too was not happy. This is where I got the phrase “When people don’t understand something, they reject it.” This is very sad, and The Giver also felt this too. He didn’t understand why he got the memories, and why he got the worst one of them all. Step by step he experienced pain and pleasure to learn these past times, however it would only cause him pain in the future. This is also quite relative to today’s society whenever casual racism is brought up. People will ignore something like blackface because they didn’t realize it was wrong and only cause themselves trouble when they are forced to realize what it truly meant.

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