- John Gaines
Our society is chaotic, violent, and often disturbing to grow up in. Wouldn’t it be much better to grow up in a safer, more secure place? How much of the unease and disorder of modern society would you sacrifice to create a more peaceful and harmonious civilization? The Giver, by Lois Lowry, asks this difficult question, and creates a dystopia both serene and haunting for its lack of emotions and empathy for its citizens.
The Giver takes place in a future “many generations” from our time and is the story of Jonas, a twelve-year-old boy struggling to understand his place in a “perfectly organized” Community. It is a culture so far removed from the strife of our time that children playing war games do not understand what they mean, and a society so organized that children have no ability to choose their jobs or what they will do at the various times of their lives. Into this calm but sterile and unimaginative environment, Jonas struggles with dreams he cannot understand before the ceremony of becoming Twelve when he will learn that he will be the next Receiver of memories for his Community. Although Jonas is initially fascinated by the unique discoveries and demands of his position, the revelations of the emotional memories he receives from the Giver cause him to question the nature of the Community, whether its laws and regulations are for the benefit of its people, and whether he truly belongs in it.
The Giver is written in a minimalist style with descriptions of the Community as Jonas sees it. This allows the reader to get a better grasp of how different the Community is from contemporary society but also how the “normal” people of the Community understand their highly-regimented lives. The familiar images in the dreams Jonas receives from the Giver are described in alien, frightening ways, making the readers feel they had just experienced the emotions and images for the first time. What may be even more disconcerting to readers is that the lack of emotion in most of the Community is treated as normal. The calmness this brings over the story is counterbalanced by a sense of powerlessness that most of the characters other than Jonas embody. This is a place where everything is set in stone, where one’s path through life can never be altered, and nothing can be changed. Will Jonas find a new way?
The main frustration that readers may have with The Giver is that the back-story of the Community is not explained in great detail. The closest the reader gets is an extremely vague explanation of various bad things happening that brought about the end of our society. But the reader never truly learns why the Community evolved the way it did, and the Giver explains how the robotic “order” of the Community was chosen as the system of government. What could have been a fascinating explanation of how systems of government are chosen and why it is so difficult to change social order is stifled by a lack of detail. Instead, the focus remains on the power of Jonas’ emotional discoveries and how they change his life, which is fascinating and make the book a worthy read.