A futuristic tale, The Giver subtly and convincingly warns us of the unintended consequences of “Sameness”—of communities that lack any sharp edges, of societies that root out and eradicate difference, and of lives lived without any reference to those that came before. Indeed, the role of memory—how and what we remember and how it shapes our lives—is a central theme Lois Lowry set out to explore in The Giver, a young adult novel awarded the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1994.
In accepting the award, Lowry spoke of the memories that helped form The Giver:
A spring, perhaps, at the beginning, bubbling up from the earth; then a trickle from a glacier; a mountain stream entering farther along; and each tributary bringing with it the collected bits and pieces from the past.
Lowry recounts a classmate in college, an outsider whom she and her friends ostracized for her difference; she remembers a painter she met who could “see” color differently than she could, noting that he later went blind. She thinks of her aged father looking at a photograph of her deceased sister, spared the pain of remembering his daughter’s death. These are some of the tributaries of Lowry’s past that helped form The Giver.
Indeed, it is perhaps Lowry’s own self-awareness that makes this book so powerful. Drawing from her past experiences, Lowry brilliantly and subtly demonstrates how easy it is for our everyday choices— made with an eye only toward convenience and predictability—to prove harmful. Often without meaning to, we begin to make decisions and take actions to exert control, eradicate individuality, and neaten the messy margins of emotion and passion. Perhaps the most extreme example of such behavior is selective euthanasia, a highly charged topic Lowry addresses and which ironically has made The Giver a frequent target for censors; it is often banned from school reading lists.
The end result of embracing “Sameness,” Lowry warns, could be to create a society like Jonas’s. On the cusp of adulthood, Jonas and his friends, Asher and Fiona, ride their bicycles about town largely worry free, going from school to meaningful volunteer work with ease. Even the occasional scraped knee is easily dealt with through relief-of-pain. At home, neatly formed families of four are matched perfectly, taking age, gender, intellect, and activity level into account. Once the Old outlive their usefulness, they enjoy a celebratory “release.” So too do fussy infants or unhealthy babies who might otherwise tax their mothers and fathers. Food is plentiful, everyone has a job he or she is well suited for, and the Elders think deeply on issues related to the community. What more could they—or any of us—want?
The answer to that question forms the crux of this haunting tale that explores a society perhaps not that far from our own. Lowry expertly teases out simple yet probing questions about free will and choice, about the inherent beauty of difference and the discomfort it causes, and about the wisdom we can and must glean from the past.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Explain how the novel shifts from a utopian to a dystopian story.
2. Describe the role that our past plays in shaping our future.
3. Explain the relationship between freedom and security in Jonas’s society.
4. Explain how this novel acts as an allegory for limiting or curbing choice, including expression, relationships, and sexuality.
5. Use examples to show how language is used to control behavior in Jonas’s society and in our own.
6. Trace Jonas’s evolution from child to man, including sexual development and his growing awareness of selflessness and responsibility.
7. Identify how and why uniformity is promoted in Jonas’s society and in other societies; explain its effects.
8. Show how the author employs sensory language to highlight deficiencies in Jonas’s community.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Study Guide
• The Study Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
• Before chapter Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
• Study Guide vocabulary lists include words from the novel that vary in difficulty.
1. The vocabulary lists for each chapter are sufficiently comprehensive so that shorter lists of vocabulary words can be constructed from them.
2. Working from the lesson plan’s chapter vocabulary lists, the teacher also may construct vocabulary studies for individual students, choosing specific words from each chapter that are most appropriate for them.
The discussion questions vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some questions require higher levels of critical thinking; others engage students with less challenging inquiry.
2. Individual discussion questions may be assigned to students working in pairs or in small study groups; their contributions may then be added to a whole-class discussion.
Test questions also vary in degree of difficulty.
1. Some multiple-choice questions address the factual content of the novel; others require students to employ critical thinking skills, such as analyzing; comparing and contrasting; and drawing inferences.
2. The teacher may select specific multiple-choice questions and one or more essay questions to assess an individual student’s understanding of the novel.
3. The essay portion of the test appears on a separate page so that it may be omitted altogether in testing.
Before students read through the book, point out to them the following themes, or universal ideas, that will be addressed in the novel:
- Free will
- Control vs. chaos (sexuality, language, emotion, art)
- Individual vs. society
- Coming of age
Talk with your students about how a motif is a recurring pattern or repeated action, element, or idea in a book. As they read, have them pay attention to the following motifs:
- Sensory elements (colors, smells, temperatures, textures)
- Nomenclature (a naming system or way of classifying and distinguishing objects)
A symbol is a concrete object or place that has significance in a literary work because it communicates an idea. Have your students talk about how the author uses the following symbols and look for other symbols on their own as they read:
- Light eyes
- Front-buttoned jacket
1. According to The Giver, the worst part of holding the memories is the inability to share them with anyone. How would it affect you if the past and history of the world were yours alone to know and bear? How important is it for society that we know and study history?
2. The nomenclature, or classification system, used in Jonas’s society is quite different from that used in our own. Some examples include numbering instead of naming children before they are adopted by families, referring to families as “family units,” and saying “comfort objects” instead of “stuffed animals” or “toys.” Why do you think Lowry created these terms? What role do they play in Jonas’s society? How do they affect the mood of the book?
3. In The Giver, we see many women in powerful positions, from the Chief Elder to Jonas’s mother. Conversely, we see males assigned roles that center around empathy, nurturing, and caring. These include Jonas’s father and The Giver, as well as Jonas. Why do you think the author chose to reverse these gender stereotypes? How does reversing them help shape the novel?
4. Why do you think Lowry chose to tell the story from Jonas’s point of view? How would it differ if told from The Giver’s point of view? How would the story change if it were told from Lily’s point of view?
5. The concept of “release” and how it is illustrated in the book are highly controversial. Are there any cases of “release” that are the same in our society and in Jonas’s? In what cases, if any, do you think “release” is appropriate?
6. How does the family structure in Jonas’s society differ from what we are used to? Are there any similarities? What common issues have they dealt with by creating homes for the Old and for Childless Adults?
7. If your elders and those around you could observe you at all times, what Assignment do you...
(The entire section is 607 words.)
apprehensive: fearful, worried about something
defiant: challenging, disobedient
ironic: purposefully contradictory in meaning
jeering: heckling, mocking
navigational: having to do with steering or directing a course or path
palpable: able to be felt or perceived
patriotic: expressing pride in one’s country
distraught: hysterical, extremely upset
squat: short, stubby
trembled: shook slightly (especially from fear)
wheedle: coax, persuade incessantly
1. As the book begins, why is Jonas frightened?
Although Jonas initially states he is frightened, he ultimately decides that “frightened” is not the right word to describe his feelings. Jonas is very careful with language, a characteristic we soon discover is important in his society. Jonas is instead “apprehensive” about the impending “special December.”
2. Who is not as precise as Jonas in word choice and usage? What example is given as evidence? How does the discussion of language help set the tone for the book?
Jonas’s friend, Asher, often makes verbal mistakes, to his classmates’ great amusement. When Asher is late to school, he stands in the front of the class to give a formal apology for his tardiness. He says he was late because he stopped to watch the salmon at the hatchery and was “distraught”; he meant to say “distracted.” Through the discussion of language, the author conveys a sense of control and punishment.
3. How does Jonas’s discussion of the precision of language affect the mood?
Though Jonas provides a lighthearted example of his friend’s confusing words and their meanings, Jonas’s expressed worry about December and his clear concern over properly expressing his worry...
(The entire section is 693 words.)
acquired: obtained, received
adherence: observance (such as fidelity to a rule, a law, a custom, a policy, or a convention)
appeal: question an official decision
aptitude: talent, gift
fidgeting: making small movements (usually from boredom)
fret: to worry
recreation: activity for fun or pleasure
1. What do we discover about his society through Jonas’s description of the “Ceremony for the Ones”?
Every December there is a mass celebration for the aging of all the children—exactly fifty in each year if none is released. Individuality has been subsumed into the more generic...
(The entire section is 551 words.)
chastise: scold, rebuke
dwelling: home, house
hoarded: saved, stored
hovered: stood over
lurk: wait in hiding for the purpose of ambush
remorse: self-reproach, regret
tunic: long and loose garment usually worn over pants
1. Why does Lily say Gabriel’s and Jonas’s eyes are “funny”?
Most people in their society have dark eyes, but Jonas, Gabriel, and another little girl all have light eyes. Eyes are not differentiated by color, only by being light or dark.
2. What does Lily mean when she teases...
(The entire section is 386 words.)
bypass: skip over
chortled: laughed happily, chuckled
gravitating: moving toward
invariably: always, in every case
rehabilitation: restoring someone or something to a previous state; restoring normalcy
tabulate: count, add up
1. What do citizens do when they become Eights?
They sign up for volunteer hours and may choose where to spend them.
2. Where does Jonas choose to volunteer? What are his duties?
On this day he rides his bicycle until he finds Asher’s bicycle outside the House of the Old. His groupmate...
(The entire section is 281 words.)
disquieting: anxiety provoking
murky: dirty, dark
1. What do family units do every morning?
They share their dreams and talk them through, just as later in the day they discuss their days, sharing their feelings and experiences.
2. What does Jonas dream about? Why is he embarrassed?
Jonas rarely remembers his dreams, but he has a vivid dream about wanting Fiona to take off her clothes and get into the baths with him at the House of the Old. He is also naked. Jonas has reached puberty and is beginning to have sexual...
(The entire section is 244 words.)
buoyancy: ability to float
disposition: countenance, temperament
infringed on: invaded; interfered with
merriment: joy, fun
meticulously: very carefully with attention to detail
murmuring: speaking quietly in a low voice
relinquish: give up
reprieve: postponement of a sentence or punishment
scrupulously: thoroughly, diligently
stowed: placed, kept
throng: crowd of people
transgressions: violations, rule breaking
unaccustomed: unusual, out of the ordinary
(The entire section is 429 words.)
amidst: in the middle of
avert: turn away
exasperated: frustrated, irritated
impose: to put in place forcibly
mischief: playful troublemaking
pampered: spoiled, treated indulgently
retroactive: valid or taking effect from a set point in the past
1. What does Jonas’s full number, Eleven-Nineteen, signify?
He was the nineteenth child born in his year; he is one of the Elevens.
2. Who gives the main speech before the Assignments are given out? What is the speech about?
The Chief Elder, who is...
(The entire section is 310 words.)
attribute: a quality
benign: harmless; kindly
crescendo: gradual increase in volume
integrity: strong morality, honesty
jaunty: cheerful, confident
magnitude: great size
painstaking: thorough, detailed
piecemeal: scattered, random
1. Why is Jonas not assigned?
He has been selected to be the next Receiver of Memory, a rare honor.
2. How is the current Receiver described?
He is a bearded old man with pale eyes.
3. When was the previous Receiver chosen? What...
(The entire section is 283 words.)
compel: to force
requisition: official request
steeled: prepared, made strong for
1. How is Jonas immediately affected by his selection?
He feels alone and set apart from others. His peers and the rest of the community have already begun to see him differently.
2. What do Jonas’s parents tell him about the former Receiver?
They tell him a female was chosen during the Ceremony of Twelve. They are not allowed to say her name. No one is allowed to ever say her name again or use it for a newchild. After she was...
(The entire section is 309 words.)
alcove: recess or niche in a room
exhilarating: thrilling, exciting
1. What does the Attendant do that is surprising when Jonas enters the lobby of the Annex?
She stands; she is showing Jonas respect for his position.
2. How does the Receiver’s dwelling differ from the others in the community?
His furnishings are ornate; they show an appreciation of beauty, not just of function and necessity. Most importantly, his dwelling contains thousands of books. In other dwellings, there are only a few functional...
(The entire section is 353 words.)
basking: relaxing in warmth
conveyance: means of transfer or transport
frigid: very cold
quizzical: curious, puzzled
torrent: strong stream
1. How does the author convey the understanding of “snow”?
Lowry uses sensory language to make the reader feel snow, just as Jonas would have felt it for the first time. Jonas breathes in the cold and feels “the sharp intake of frigid air.” He feels “cold air swirling around his entire body” and “blow against his hands where they lay at his sides, and over his back.” Then he feels “an entirely new sensation: pinpricks? No, because they were soft...
(The entire section is 387 words.)
distinctive: pertaining to one thing in particular, unique
fleeting: momentary, brief
fretful: distressed, anxious
genetic: related to heredity
1. What does Jonas do the morning after his training that he has never done before?
He tells a lie of omission to his mother; he does not share his dream from the night before. He had dreamed of the snowy hill and felt sure that there was something significant in the distance that he needed to reach but didn’t know how to get there. It is a good feeling.
2. Why is...
(The entire section is 268 words.)
alien: strange, unknown
assimilated: taken in, absorbed
electrode: conductor through which electricity passes into someone or something
embedded: implanted within the surroundings
exempted: excused, absolved
grimly: darkly, dismally
immense: huge, great
irrationally: unreasonably, without logical thought
sinuous: curvy, twisting
vibrance: liveliness, vigorousness
1. What does Jonas discover has been...
(The entire section is 443 words.)
assuage: lessen, relieve
daub: a smear
excruciating: unbearably painful
ominous: threatening, worrying
skittered: jerked, moved quickly and unevenly
wry: cleverly humorous (often in a cynical or ironic way)
1. How does the sledding memory change when it is transmitted to Jonas again?
In this memory, the sled is out of control, and he suffers a terrible accident. Jonas comes out of the memory in horrible pain, and The Giver will not provide him relief-of-pain.
2. How does the memory change Jonas, bringing him closer to...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
carnage: bloody massacre with many dead
grotesquely: disturbingly, repulsively
parched: dried out
rigid: stiff, unyielding, inflexible
sprawled: laid out with arms and legs spread
stench: strong and repulsive odor
surging: gaining, cresting
1. When Jonas arrives for training, The Giver is in terrible pain. Instead of going away, Jonas asks to take some of it away from The Giver. What does he see when The Giver lays his hands on him?
He is on a battlefield. All around him are death and pain—shrieking horses and bloodied soldiers. He...
(The entire section is 243 words.)
ecstatic: extremely happy, joyful
faltered: paused in speech
obsolete: no longer in use
tentatively: cautiously, hesitantly
vague: unclear, indefinite
wisp: thin piece or strand
1. What has Jonas traded for the memories, honor, wisdom, and pain?
Jonas has traded his childhood—essentially, his innocence. The pain Jonas feels results from his growing awareness of the truth of the human condition.
2. What are some of the good memories Jonas has seen?
He has seen a birthday party, where a child was...
(The entire section is 471 words.)
expertise: considerable or expert knowledge in a particular field of accomplishment
glum: sad, morose
horde: large group
permeated: spread throughout
suppressing: holding back
1. How does Jonas’s family learn it’s an unscheduled holiday?
The announcement comes from a speaker on the wall.
2. What has happened since Jonas stopped taking his pills four weeks earlier?
The effects of puberty, the Stirrings, have returned, and Jonas is once again having pleasurable dreams. He thinks they are in part due to the memories he has been...
(The entire section is 355 words.)
dejected: sad, depressed
luminous: bright, full of light
self-possessed: confident; in control of oneself
1. Why can’t The Giver request his own release?
He is unable to request release until The Receiver is fully trained, by which time the transfer of memory and history will be complete. The same command was given to Jonas when he was made The Receiver.
2. What happened in the “failure”?
A young woman named Rosemary was chosen as the Receiver-in-Training. At first she seemed to The Giver to be a good candidate, but she...
(The entire section is 336 words.)
emerge: come forward
puncturing: making a small hole, piercing
wretched: deeply unhappy, despondent
1. What is Jonas’s father slated to do at the beginning of the chapter? How does The Giver seem to feel about it?
He is supposed to release the smaller of identical twins. The Nurturers will weigh each newchild and then Jonas’s father will release the lighter of the two. The Giver shakes his head and says he wishes they wouldn’t do that. Jonas replies that he would like to watch the process.
2. The Giver seems insistent on granting Jonas’s...
(The entire section is 244 words.)
apparent: obvious, easily noticed
mimicked: imitated, copied
mounting: growing, burgeoning
sarcastic: marked by irony for the purpose of conveying contempt
successor: one who comes after, one that takes another’s place
1. Why does The Giver have Jonas spend the night with him?
Jonas is too upset to go home; very angry, he says he can never return home again. The Giver lies, saying there is more training Jonas must do that evening. He tells Jonas that no one must hear him cry.
2. For what reason are the people who release the Old and newborns...
(The entire section is 777 words.)
condemned: given harsh punishment or rebuke; sentenced to death
frazzled: exhausted, worn out
fugitives: wanted criminals who escape capture
languid: lazy, relaxed
rutted: marked by grooves or tracks
1. Why does The Giver’s and Jonas’s plan fall apart? What does Jonas do?
When Jonas goes home and has dinner with his family, his father mentions that Gabriel had spent the past evening at the Nurturing Center and still is sleeping poorly. The Nurturers, including Jonas’s father, had voted unanimously to release...
(The entire section is 270 words.)
gullies: small depressions or channels
methodically: systematically, done according to an established procedure
warble: melodic or trilling singing
1. How does the landscape begin to look different?
Jonas and Gabriel are riding into a wilder place, less urban.
2. What do Jonas and Gabriel see for the very first time?
They see a waterfall and wildlife for the first time.
3. What happens when Gabriel yells “Plane! Plane!” and points to the sky?
Jonas turns to look and sees instead a bird,...
(The entire section is 216 words.)
impeded: held back; complicated
imperceptibly: indiscernibly, unnoticeably
incision: precise cut (especially as made in surgery)
lethargy: lack of energy
resignation: giving up; hopelessness
1. What is the state of the two travelers as the chapter opens?
They are both cold, tired, hungry, and weak. It has begun to snow. Though his senses belie his feelings, Jonas believes that Elsewhere must be close. In order to warm Gabriel, he unwraps his tunic and holds the child to his bare skin. Jonas tries to warm them with thoughts, but he...
(The entire section is 419 words.)
1. What literary device is employed in the following passage? “He liked the thought of seeing his father perform the ceremony, and making the little twin clean and comfy. His father was such a gentle man.”
2. Which of these is not found anywhere in Jonas’s community?
3. The Giver says of receiving memories that “it’s like going downhill through deep snow on a...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
1. When Jonas escapes and looks back at his community, he imagines the citizens all waking at dawn, when “the orderly, disciplined life he had always known would continue again, without him. The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. The life without color, pain, or past.” Using this definition of Jonas’s community, give at least three examples of what the citizens have given up in order to live this life. What commentary is the author making about these tradeoffs and the consequences of those choices for humanity?
When Jonas makes his escape with Gabriel, he encounters a completely new world. It is as though both he and Gabriel have been literally born again. Each curve of the road...
(The entire section is 2627 words.)