Summary: Set in a dystopian society where expression of emotions are prohibited by controlling diction; where the community is limited to its mundane existence and privileges are granted to children as they age; where the goal of equality has been achieved — from family size, to perception, to the landscape, and even to the proper usage of expression of emotion itself.
Enter Jonas, whose twelfth year is approaching, where his path will be defined for him in his next ceremony. The rest of the novel is about Jonas gradually gaining higher cognition and awareness as he spends more time with this figure known as “The Giver.”
Review: If you’re looking for a well-nuanced, thoughtfully-constructed dystopian novel with elaborate world-building, The Giver will most likely disappoint. As you read the book and gradually become exposed how this community is structured by the rules they abide by, the questions raised and the exploration of it is lacking. There is very little nuance to events= as they are presented as they are, and clearly intended to be interpreted straightforwardly. Moreover, there is plenty to pick apart of the coherence and logical consistency of the setting, and many opportunities which would serve to elucidate are left unexplored or addressed very simply — “It has always been this way” or “The goal is ‘Sameness.’”
The writing is very easy to read and approachable for its intended genre, Young Adult Fiction. The simple syntax works in its favor, for oftentimes characters merely express themselves in the simple active voice, which serves to demonstrate suppression of more complex thought or emotion. I found it interesting how particular the characters had to be in their diction, especially to describe their emotional state, which left me pondering how one defines the distinctions between words, and perhaps whether or not understanding of these word is entirely subjective or something ingrained by society? The chapters also, are very brief of themselves, almost like the brief memories or glimpses that Giver imparts.
The highlight and main emphasis of the book, however, is the relationship between the Giver and Jonas that develops; and this is where I feel the book succeeded and why it is well worth the read. As the Giver shares memories and Jonas develops a higher understanding of his own emotions and becomes more critical of his surroundings; it becomes a coming of age story, where the dystopian setting serves as a supplement to emphasize the growth and transformation.
Overall, it was a short and brief read that I think was well worth my time, although by the time I read it I was beyond the target audience.
**HEREFORTH SPOILERS I GUESS**
While many messages could be found throughout the book, I found this idea of imparting on the next generation through the sharing of memories to be the most interesting and universal aspect of the book, so I’ll discuss this at length.
As the Giver transfers memories to Jonas, he learns not only new words and concepts like sunshine, colors, snow — but also the emotions attributed to them are transferred as well. With his expanded vocabulary, he is able to describe his emotions more clearly and distinctly — and with more depth. And even though the transfer of memories is described as this metaphysical process, note that the last significant memory that the Giver was uniquely his own — the story of the prior selected receiver, and his daughter.
I do not believe that there is actually some magical process required where you can empathize with another, but by merely interacting with people. Transferring memories alleviates pain and makes experiencing emotions less burdensome; because when you transfer memories, you’re also transferring the emotions attached to them because memories that are significant to us rarely are laced without emotion? There is a part in the book where the Giver describes his “being” as his memories, this intangible part of him. In a sense, this sharing of memories is a message about human empathy.
In the first twenty or so years of your life, you attend school (and perhaps college) to absorb all of this information — but this information is from what prior generations have written or discovered and now are imparting onto you. Think about the parental figures in your life growing up and when they advise you, when they share their memories, their experiences. At this stage, in your life, you are a “Receiver,” learning the lessons that “Givers” provide. But at what point, will you be ready to impart and be the “Giver” to influence the next generation thereafter? Because as one generation comes to an end, also simultaneously arises another, and what is eventually left is what you have left to give? At what point in your life, where you cross that threshold to become a Giver; at what point, will you be able to give back in the same way that you once received from your prior generation?
It is interesting to note how, originally Jonas required the memories that the Giver transferred on him to generate his emotions as a source of comfort, but by the end ot the novel he was able to utilize his own memories, that it was entirely self derived. And at the end of the book, Jonas hears the echo of music, symbolizing the lasting impression that the Giver had on Jonas, sort of like whispers from the past influencing today.
The Giver himself had lived a full life of harrowing pain and isolation; and when the Giver sends Jonas to escape, and he chooses to remain behind, knowing his time (generation) has expired and it is Jonas’ role to deliver the message. It is interesting to also note that Jonas is a variation of Jonah, who had failed God (perhaps represented by the Giver?) to deliver the message that God intended. Jonas also brings Gabriel, whose name is of significance; it’s a clear Biblical reference in how the baby is described: curly blonde hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks. Gabriel is famous for delivering the message of Mary’s pregnancy — the purpose of this role was that he was the messenger of information. I feel that Gabriel represented some sort of hope, the new generation, that he would be the one to deliver the message, the memories from prior generations to bring forth change.
This idea of the Receiver will eventually become the Giver is what makes this book relevant to young adults — if you are a Receiver in your point of life thus (assuming you are fairly young), so at what point will you become a Giver? What valuable memories, what valuable lessons, do you have to share to enlighten the next generation? What imprint or influence do you want to leave behind?
(these don’t really have a point to them, just miscellaneous rambles and questions that arose whilst reading)
I found it amusing how everybody used bikes everywhere, for ultimately they limit your movement and handicap your capability to travel beyond the community, so was that a mechanism of control in of itself? Also, the family dynamic was very much some sort of satire of the perfect nucleus of the 1950s ideal American family, especially in the scene where they have dinner and have this banal ritual of sharing of “feelings.”
To what extent did the people actually have empathy or care for another? The Father clearly had formed some sort of attachment to the runted babe that would be released (later named Gabriel). He grew attached to Gabriel in what way he could, — secretly giving him a name even though he wasn’t supposed to, asking to Gabriel to be spared, doting on him and bringing him home as a visitor for a year. And when it came time to release the other twinge, he did gently insert the syringe to the baby and seem to attempt to soothe them, using a tiny needle knowing it would hurt less? Lily herself was capable of pondering beyond the horizons of her own community as well, as noted when she was asking what-if questions of there being a twin or sort of parallel universe? To what extent, did they question beyond the scope of their trivial existence? Was it the pill that suppressed it? Selective breeding?
What place does “love” have in our society, if it is both equally dangerous? I think that, perhaps the Giver’s love that he had for his daughter, Rosemary, may have afflicted his judgment in transferring memories to her; in that he was wanting to make her happy all the time and reluctant to give her pain. Is it not a parental reflex, to want to shield our children from the negative emotions and horrors that exist? But at the same time, love creates a depth of caring and compassionate for another? Clearly the society operated very efficiently (but then again, the dystopian presentation was very black and white. So eh).
Can the full spectrum of human emotion ever be experienced or contained within one person? The Giver was supposed to be this one caretaker, one singular figure to bear the entire emotional burden of society. What if prior Givers had withheld emotions, as this Giver withheld his love of music? Because these “memories” had just been snippets without any context?
This feeling of pain from assuming this role, of harrowing isolation, not physical pain but a deeper sort, of bearing the burden in harrowing isolation of being the only person to experience the depth of emotions and knowledge? I wonder if this is how God feels o_o;
Where do these memories come from? Passed down from prior generations of Givers, I presume. Many of them are given without any sort of context or linear stream of sense — a dying elephant, a boy stuck in war, enjoying sailing around, a christmas evening with family? It reminds me of how traditions and lessons are passed down, stories from prior generations.
The word “starving” for Jonas takes on a new form as it is new experiences arise; for example, Jonas had stated that he was “starving” for dinner, but his understanding of “starving” did not deepen until he was in the outskirts of society foraging for food and survival. Can a natural collorary be drawn then, our understanding of words — especially those to describe emotional states are from our experiences? Is our understanding of the word love is developed in this way? What the word “happy” meant to me back then is definitely not the same way it is now.
The first color that Jonas sees is the color red — I found that very interesting that Lowry should choose this color to be his first. Red, being my favorite color, represents both intense, passionate love, but it also equally associated with violence, bloodshed, war; it is an ostensibly paradoxical co-existence of the human dichotomy, infused in a singular color. As Jonas begins to perceive the color red, he is also widening and understanding both ends of emotions, both human capabilities of love and infliction of pain on another. Also very interesting that the Giver and Jonas’ preferred experience of emotions are different — his is colors, the Giver’s is music. Perhaps it is an innate preference? Hmm. I wonder what the Giver’s first note that he heard?