What is the main idea of The Giver?

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

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All dystopian fiction shares one basic idea: a perfect world is usually far from perfect.  A "utopia" is a perfect world.  A dystopia is a world that first appears perfect, but turns out to be terribly wrong under the surface.

This book is clever because it makes the dystopia point so simply.  The main idea of The Giver specifically is that sameness is not the same thing as perfection--difference should be celebrated and not feared.  The community works so hard to keep everything the same, and prevent discomfort, that they do things like beat toddlers for using the wrong word and kill newborn infants because they have a twin.  Mistakes are not tolerated, and anyone who breaks a rule three times is killed.  There is no love, and no real emotion at all. 

While it is true that all of the things that make us human are painful (love, passion, disagreement, choice), they are also what makes life worth living.  Life without love, without memory, is horrifying.

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sciftw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The Giver is a story about a society in which everything appears wonderful, good, and peaceful.  There is no pain, suffering, hatred, bigotry, etc.  It sounds great, and much of that is due to the Sameness.  Unfortunately, the Sameness didn't only get rid of the bad human emotions.  The society also doesn’t experience joy, pleasure, or love.  In fact, when the people decided to go with the Sameness, they even gave up the memory of those things.  

As he spends time with the Giver, Jonas learns more about the Sameness and the repercussions of it.  Jonas eventually decides that a society that is living without the ability to experience or remember any kind of emotion isn’t really living at all.  

“Our people made that choice, the choice to go to the Sameness.  Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with differences.”  He thought for a moment. “We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”

“We shouldn’t have!” Jonas said fiercely.  

At some point in the past, the society thought that they would be better off without pain.  But in order to be truly free of pain, the people had to give up their memories of those things. However, before implementing the Sameness, the Elders did note that some memories are valuable.  That’s what I think the novel’s main idea is.  Memory is important.  The elders believe that only certain memories are important.  They don’t want mistakes to be repeated over and over again, so that is why they have a Receiver of Memory.  The society that Jonas lives in believes that it is truly better off with the Sameness and the missing memories; however, through Jonas and his experience with the Giver, readers come to the realization that all memories are equally valuable.  In order to understand true happiness, a person must be able to compare it with something.  Jonas is able to understand what happiness is only when the Giver allows him to remember pain and sorrow.  

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