What is the importance of memory in The Giver by Lois Lowry?

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In The Giver by Lois Lowry, memory represents the world that has been lost, or more accurately the world that has been erased. Because the society in which Jonas lives is tightly controlled, many memories are stored away so that the general population will not be able to recall them. The memories of the world before the dystopian regime was created recall the sweetness of an evening spent with the family by the warmth of a fireplace, or the thrill of whizzing down a snowy slope on a sled. Even painful memories are hidden from people. Their world is so controlled that there are no extremes of pain or of joy. They controlled lives with limited emotions and desires.

Although the community in Jonas’s world is safe because much of the danger that extreme emotions can cause—war, violence, anger, or chaos—are no longer threats, the people lead bland lives. Their community aspires to “sameness” and erases differences. In our world, these very differences often make life most interesting for people.

Allowing the community to access memories could be dangerous. It might cause some inner yearning to stir, which could create a desire to return to a world before the controls and rules were set in place. We see this when Jonas receives access to the memories. He begins to feel what it was like to live in a world where there is variety and yearns to return to it. He breaks the rules to do so.

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In Jonas's community, the people are relieved from carrying the burden of the past in order to spare them the pain associated with history. But in being so spared, they have lost connections to all of their history. Jonas has been tasked with receiving all of the memories that The Giver singularly holds—an important responsibility in the community and a high honor.

When Jonas receives his Assignment, he isn't even sure what he is supposed to be training to do. So when The Giver tells Jonas that he will be receiving memories, Jonas incorrectly assumes that he will be listening to stories of The Giver's life.

The Giver patiently tries to explain the idea of memory, which is beyond Jonas's realm of experience at this point:

"It's the memories of the whole world," he said with a sigh. "Before you, before me, before the previous Receiver, and generations before him."

Jonas frowned. "The whole world?" he asked. "I don't understand. Do you mean not just us? Not just the community? Do you mean Elsewhere, too?—" He tried, in his mind, to grasp the concept. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't understand exactly. Maybe I'm not smart enough. I don't know what you mean when you say 'the whole world' or 'generations before him.' I thought there was only us. I thought there was only now."

"There's much more. There's all that goes beyond—all that is Elsewhere—and all that goes back, and back, and back. I received all of those, when I was...

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selected. And here in this room, all alone, I re-experience them again and again. It is how wisdom comes. And how we shape our future."

The Giver's wisdom in making decisions for the community is provided by his memories of history, which no one else has access to. The citizenry is willing to sacrifice memories in order to live a more "comfortable" life, free from ideas that might cause them pain or be unpleasant to deal with.

Thus, The Giver and Jonas bear the burden and experience the joy of all of the memories that have shaped humanity.

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In Jonas's structured, organized, safe society, difficult memories of the past have been completely eliminated from the citizens' minds and only the Receiver of Memory possesses the memories of the past. The concept of Sameness has altered life in the community to the extent that the citizens can no longer see in color, hear music, make independent decisions, or truly experience the spontaneity of life and their natural environment. The society is controlled by the Committee of Elders, who make every significant decision in the community, including personal choices like choosing a partner, raising a child, and picking an occupation. The Receiver of Memory's main job is to possess the memories of life before Sameness and provide wisdom and insight of the past when they are consulted by the Committee of Elders. The Receiver of Memory has a difficult job and must courageously possess all of the positive and negative memories of humanity's complex past. If the Receiver of Memory leaves the community or dies, the difficult memories of the past will be set loose throughout the community, causing the citizens extreme discomfort, which is why Jonas is prohibited from applying for release.

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In the utopian society created in The Giver, memory, or lack thereof, is an important part of the people's quest to eliminate conflict and pain from their lives.  The idea is that without memory, one will not experience painful feelings such as grief, regret, or other feelings that could create conflict with others.  Memory is considered important from a practical standpoint, however, as found in the oft-quoted proverb, "Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it."  As such, a designated "Receiver" is appointed to house all of society's memories, good and bad.  What becomes apparent to Jonas once he is appointed Receiver is that there are plenty of bad memories to house, but there are also many happy ones which provide feelings of comfort and love--feelings that are absent from his society.  At its core, The Giver is about this peculiar institution we experience called life; to be meaningful, one must experience it in its entirety--the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Without pain, there is no pleasure, without death, there is no life, without conflict, there is  no love.  Although some school districts have banned The Giver due to the controversial presence of euthanasia, this reader would contend that overall themes--lack of love between parent and child, lack of memories, are possibly even more disturbing.  However, if to be disturbed is to be forced to think, then The Giver certainly does that and more.

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