What are life lessons in The Giver?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Some life lessons include that differences are important to the human experience, you must take the bad with the good, and we need love to make us whole.

A life lesson is something you can learn from reading.  There are many lessons to be taken from this book, but one of the most important ones is that differences are important for the human experience.

In Jonas’s community, they have embraced the concept of Sameness.  Sameness is an overarching concept that means that they do not allow any differences of any kind.  They do not want people to make decisions, so they have taken over choices for people.  They have done away with all aspects of human emotion.  When Jonas begins his training, one of the first differences he notices is the ability to see color.  Color is symbolic of difference in general, and Jonas demonstrates this when he equates color with choice.

"But now that I can see colors, at least sometimes, I was just thinking: what if we could hold up things that were bright red, or bright yellow, and he could choose? Instead of the Sameness." (Ch. 13)

Jonas comments that he wants to choose, because color fascinates him.  But he also sees the danger in people possibly making the wrong choices.  He sees why the people chose Sameness.  They chose to remove the humanity from humankind.

This brings us to the second lesson: you must take the good with the bad.  One of the main reasons for Sameness was the desire to remove the negative elements of humanity, such as famine and war.  However, in removing these negative elements, we have also removed the positive ones.  Jonas’s first memory is a sled ride down a hill, which is a fun and invigorating journey.  He cannot understand why they don’t have snow, and hills, in their world.  The Giver explains that snow did not allow crops to grow year round, and hills had to be removed.

"They made conveyance of goods unwieldy. Trucks; buses. Slowed them down. So—" He waved his hand, as if a gesture had caused hills to disappear. "Sameness," he concluded. (Ch. 11)

Jonas notes that he wishes these things still existed, because they were fun.  This is a childish gesture.  He does not understand the monumental change in society in getting rid of everything considered negative.  The biggest change is getting rid of human emotions. 

When you rid a society of love, which the community did, you are doing away with something elemental to what makes us human.  Jonas discovers this when he sees the memories of family.  He experiences love with the Giver, an old man who begins to love him in a fatherly sort of way.  He knows that his own parents do not feel these emotions for him.  In fact, when he asks, they scold him for not using precise language.

"Your father means that you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it's become almost obsolete," his mother explained carefully. (Ch. 17)

Jonas pulls away from his parents at this point.  It is a personal growth for me, when he realizes that he is not like other people in his community.  He understands things that they don’t, and never will.  They have no concept of love—only he and the Giver do.  Yet now that he understands it, he also knows that he needs it.  He realizes that humans need to love.  Children need to be loved by parents, which is why he asked them, even when he knew deep down they could not possibly understand.

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ellypirocacos | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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The Giver is reminiscent of Plato's Republic. It is a civil state that is founded on some obscure notion of Justice (not so in Plato's Republic) where all aspects of human experience and engagement are designed to keep potential conflict at bay to sustain political order and stability. Notoriously, sound judgment is impeded by the emotions, scarcity of resources, inequality, and the like. As such the lives of people are organised to optimise individual capabilities (more accurately potentialities as capability/abilities/excellences) by placing them in the most appropriate familial environment and matching them to a particular socio-professional functionary role in the state/community.

The protagonist, Jonas, revolts once he discovers the poetic beauty in the full-range of human experience for which he previously took daily inhibitors to suppress. This awoken his passions, sexual appetites and desires. And indeed, despair and frustration were soon to follow, as was the realisation that the artificially contrived community in which he resided - which he and all others thought was all there was in the world - could be escaped! The desire for freedom would prove too great a temptress and Jonas will learn the value of life truly lived when forced to express his will amidst human suffering at the expense of comfort and security.

The lessons? Human happiness is not measured by stability and comfort. Life is not the same thing as living. Freedom and equality reach cross roads. Human emotion is daunting and yet enriching. Attachments do not threaten communal living but can enhance it.

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