The novel makes us wonder about whether it’s worth sacrificing freedom, choice and individuality for peace, contentment and ease. What do you think? Why?

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Lorraine Caplan | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Every society grapples with this choice between freedom and safety, and the answer to this question is going to vary for everyone.  Like Jonas, I opt for individuality, and my opinion is based upon the novel, my own life experiences, and the recent battles in the United States over this very issue. 

What happens to the characters in the novel when they have no choices to make?  They enjoy safety and security, to be sure. But they can make no choices at all, and they are unable to be fully realized human beings. They are able to make no educational or professional decisions. Nor may they choose their own partners. Who will bear children is decided by the community. Their natural inclinations are repressed by drugs, so that they experience no sexual longing, and the community decides when one of its members is to be "released" from life. No one suffers. There is climate control, eliminating snow and sun, providing the perfect environment in which to live and raise food.  The complete absence of color in their lives, since they appear to see only in shades of lightness and darkness, is a metaphor for what people are missing. The people in the community are motivated only by conformity and fear to act as they are told to act, with no say in their destinies. When Jonas is chosen as the Receiver to bear the history of mankind, to feel all of the feelings that make us human, and to perceive the world around him without any sensory blocks, he understands what he has missed all his life, and he opts for freedom. There are great risks, to be sure, but he wishes to be the master of his own life.  Lowry makes a powerful case in the novel for this choice, since Jonas is the most fully realized character, the backdrop being a community of sheep. 

In my own life, my choices have been my own, with parents who understood that I could not grow as a person without being able to make my own choices.  These choices entailed risk, as all choices do, but I have always preferred the risks to the supposed security of others making my choices for me. I chose my education, my profession, where to live, whom to marry, and how many children I wished to have. The idea of anyone else making such choices for me is appalling to me, and even had any of those choices turned out badly, that is preferable to me. If I were living in a society like Jonas', I would run away, too, wanting to experience all that life has to offer, the good and the bad. 

Today, in the United States and likely in other countries, there is a great tension between freedom and security, particularly since the tragedy of the World Trade Center towers falling on 9/11, 2001. The Patriot Act was an effort to make us secure, but it took away our privacy and many freedoms.  There is such a concern over immigrants that it is now possible to be stopped by the police in some states for merely looking like one might be an immigrant, and a "Great Wall" between Mexico and the United States has been proposed.  If the current trend continues on this trajectory, we will give up many more freedoms, all in the interests of national security, perhaps being forced to always carry identity papers or having to seek permission to travel anywhere, or even subject to searches and seizures without any probable cause. Our freedom to exchange ideas and offer opposing points of view might be completely repressed.  This is the road to the community of The Giver, where people conform and obey, but make no choices, losing what makes us human, the capacity to feel and the capacity to decide.

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