By Lois Lowry
Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy lives in a future society that has decided to regulate all means of life. This strategy is to effectively eliminate all pain, fear, war, and hatred. There are no colors, every looks and acts essentially the same, and competition is almost non-existent since everyone is allowed a “turn”. Everyone is always polite because of the public chastisement given to those who are not. Also, his society has no choice on what they do for their jobs. When they become “Twelves”, or turn age twelve, they are assigned a job to do for the rest of their lives based on what they community’s elders deem to be their interests and abilities. Couples are only allowed after an extremely complicated application process and they are only allowed to have two children, which are not their own but are given to them through the Nurturers and Birthmothers. Once grown into adulthood and given their assignment for their life-long job, the citizens spend their entire lives working in this job until they are no longer productive in the community. Once they are no longer useful, they are sent to the House of the Old until they are “released” from the community. In actuality, release is the euthanasia or people, but it is not discovered by anyone but Jonas until he starts his training to be a Memory Keeper. The community believes that being “released” is an honor and something to look forward to and that they are sent to some mystical place beyond where everything is better. Jonas, the main character, lives with his father, a Nurturer of the newborn children, his mother, who works at the Department of Justice, and his seven-year-old sister named Lily.
We begin the novel with Jonas, the main character. He is “apprehensive” about the upcoming Ceremony of Twelve, which is when he will turn twelve years old. It is at this ceremony that he will be given his job that he will do for the rest of his adult life. As he thinks about what job he will receive, he realizes that he has no preference and does not have any idea what he will be given because all his friends have demonstrated through their community service where they will probably end up. He knows he is different because he has pale eyes, while most people in the community have dark ones, and he has noticed more and more as the ceremony has approached that he has unusual powers of perception. These powers make certain objects “change”. Although he does not know what it means, he does know that he is unique. In fact, what he is seeing is color, which has been removed by the community in their quest for universal equality. At the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is given the highly honored Assignment of Receiver of Memory. The Receiver’s job is to be the sole keeper of the community’s collective memory. These memories include those of pain, war, and emotion from before the society went to sameness. His job is so important because someone needs to keep those memories in order to keep the society from making the same mistakes of the past. He is receiving these memories from the old Receiver who has now been deemed The Giver. As Jonas has received memories of both pain and happiness, his life has been given more meaning and understanding, but he also gets frustration with his society because he is unable to share any of the feelings he has with his fellow citizens because they gave that up for “sameness”. Throughout the time that Jonas has been going through his training, he has been helping his family take care of a problem “newchild” from his father’s work at the Nurturer station. The child’s name is Gabriel, who has trouble sleeping through the night and shares the same eyes as Jonas. Eventually, Jonas realizes that by transmitting soothing memories to the child at night allows him to sleep well. Sadly, Gabriel is still scheduled for release because of the problems that he encounters every time they take him back to the Nurturer center. The day before Gabriel’s release and the next ceremonies of the different age groups, The Giver shows Jonas what “release” really is. Jonas is shocked to find that all people that are released are killed. In response to this, Jonas and The Giver decide to make a plan to change the society forever. Jonas is to escape during the ceremonies and release all his memories on the society with his departure, but The Giver will be there to help the society cope with all these feelings bearing down upon them. The plan has been set up, Jonas and The Giver each know their parts, but Jonas is forced to leave earlier than planned when his father informs him that Gabriel will be released the next day. Jonas, having grown close to Gabriel, decides to steal his father’s bicycle and a supply of food and sets off for “Elsewhere” with Gabriel. Gradually, they encounters a landscape full of color, animals, and changing weather, but the two travelers also find hunger, danger, and exhaustion the farther they go from their controlled world. As they avoid search planes, Jonas and Gabriel travel for days and days until a snow storm makes it impossible to carry on riding the bicycle. With his last vestige of strength, Jonas warms Gabriel and mounts a high hill. When they reach the top, there is a sled waiting for them there just as in the first memory transferred to Jonas by The Giver. The two refugees ride down the hill full of joy and see something ahead of them. We are left with a description of them seeing a twinkling of lights of a friendly village at Christmas, and they hear music. Jonas is sure that someone will be waiting for them there.
The Giver does an amazing job trying to display a society without choice. Some have compared it to a communist of socialist society. It is generally considered a children’s book and I have now read it both in middle school and high school. The true concepts that I missed in middle school have become apparent to me now as the book has tried to display a criticism of a life without choice. The people in the story are all content, healthy, and productive, but that is because they have never known anything different from their controlled lives. Experiencing this world through Jonas is frustrating for the reader at first because we know there is much better for these people. Luckily, as Jonas goes through his training, his eyes are opened to the atrocities of his controlled life and that he must change it. This allows the reader to identify and choose our hero in the story. I believe that this book has good enough flexibility to provide adolescents with a moral story while also voicing a criticism on a style of living that many people already do not like. It feeds on the American hatred of all things without choice. The Giver is an interesting a short read that I recommend for all ages, even if you read it when you were younger. My second time going through the book revealed many extra things, conceptually, that I expect will happen to you as well.
Why is this book “dangerous?”:
The Giver has never been banned across the country or even universally despised across the country, but it has been challenged and banned in certain parts of the country.
In 1995, a parent in Franklin County, Kansas, challenged the book on the grounds that it is “concerned with murder, suicide, and the degradation of motherhood and adolescence.” The book was the removed from elementary libraries, but remained available to the teachers in the county.
A school board member in Wrenshall, Minnesota and two parents objected to the inclusion of The Giver on a list of books to be purchased for a high school, on the grounds of offensive language and objectionable themes. The school board ignored the objection, but released a list of books to reconsider releasing before the next school year.
In Johnson County, Missouri, complaints were charged that The Giver desensitized children to euthanasia and asked that the books “not be read in class to children under high school age.” The book is still in the high school section of the library, but is not available to children under high school age.
In 1994, The Giver was temporarily banned from classes by the Bonita Unified School District in LaVerne and San Dimas, California because four parents complained that violent and sexual passages were inappropriate for children.
The majority of the bans on this book are because of children issues instead of grown up ones. Instead of taking offense to the central theme of sending a message of no choice into children’s minds, parents were taking offense to the small sexual and euthanasia situations. Literally all of the reported complaints about the book are about sexual or euthanasia situations, belittling motherhood, belittling the family system, or calling children and the elderly useless and unproductive.