In the early chapters of The Giver, what details does the author reveal about the setting? In particular, which parts of Jonas’s physical surroundings seem much different from the world as you know it? Jonas is curious about what exactly happens when a person is “released” from the community. What do you think “release” is? Which details from the story lead you to make this guess? Jonas normally follows his community’s rules without question. What circumstances can you imagine that might cause him to change his behavior and break an important rule? In other words, what do you think is more important to Jonas than following the rules?
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 mean- ing 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.