What are the pros and cons of living in the community in The Giver?

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The advantages of living in the community from Lois Lowry's The Giver include experiencing a routine, structured lifestyle in a safe, comfortable environment. The community is stable, efficient, and organized. The disadvantages include a lack of individuality and personal choice. Citizens also cannot see colors, hear music, or experience the spontaneity of life. Knowledge and language are censored, and citizens must conform or risk being released.

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In Lois Lowry's celebrated novel The Giver, Jonas lives in an extremely structured, organized society which is founded on the principles of Sameness. Sameness dramatically alters the natural environment and ensures complete conformity throughout society.

There are several notable advantages to the community's seemingly mundane society. Jonas's community is stable, comfortable, and safe. Citizens are required to conform, experience no strong emotions, and obey the Committee of Elders. The lack of competition and individual thought contributes to the community's stability, and the environment has been altered to ensure everyone's safety. Jonas's community is also efficient and highly organized. Scientists have altered the natural landscape and climate to benefit their economy and agriculture. Citizens also experience a routine, comfortable life which is conventional and practical.

Despite the positives attached to living in Jonas's society, there are several significant disadvantages, which include the lack of individuality and personal choice. Individuality is virtually nonexistent in Jonas's community, and citizens must conform or risk being released. Citizens cannot make personal choices and are forced to obey the committee's decisions. In Jonas's community, citizens cannot choose their spouses, have their own children, or decide their occupations. People in Jonas's community do not experience the world as originally intended for humans. They cannot see colors, hear music, or experience meaningful emotions. The citizens also do not get to experience the spontaneity of life or the thrill of adventure. People in Jonas's community are also prevented from engaging in intellectual endeavors, because knowledge is censored.

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Interestingly, the community in The Giver is not all bad. There are some benefits to living there, although there are clear downsides. On the positive side, there is no need to select a career, as all jobs are assigned early in the story immediately after graduation. This makes career and life choices easier simply as a result of needing to make fewer decisions. Additionally, while it strips them of creativity, the suppression of human emotion removes conflict that is caused by jealousy, anger, and violence.

Obviously on the downside there is the removal of compassion and love. This—in addition to reduced freedom (which is also tied up in the life paths that are dictated to the citizens) and a lack of empathy toward death and suffering—creates a negative environment, at least to an outside perspective. There are clear negatives in this society, but it must be understood that the strict regulations were enacted in order to create a "better," more perfect society. The reader is left to wonder whether a violence-ridden world that also includes love and freedom of choice is preferable to a highly functional society that lacks these aspects of society that seem inherent to the human condition.

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This is an interesting topic because each society must decide what its priorities are in order to live full and happy lives. People must determine what personal or individual sacrifices must be made in order to achieve happiness and peace. Many ask if it is worth giving up personal freedoms in order to secure a peaceful society. For example, must a person be asked to give up rights to privacy in order to secure a safe and peaceful environment for everyone as a whole? In Lois Lowry's The Giver, the society in which Jonas lives decided to give up many personal freedoms in order to achieve a happy, peaceful, and secure lifestyle.

Advantages - First, Jonas is able to live within a strong, respectful, and educated family unit. This gives a child the senses of security, stability, and peace in order to learn and grow to become a productive member of society. Secondly, along with the beautiful weather he enjoys everyday, there is no violence or crime. For instance, he can go outside his home every day and not worry about being kidnapped or mugged. Finally, he does not have to worry about money, food, or healthcare because it is all provided by the community. 

The Giver explains one trade off between giving up experiences like snow sledding for the greater good when Jonas asks why there's no snow:

"Climate Control. Snow made growing food difficult, limited the agricultural periods. And unpredictable weather made transportation almost impossible at times. It wasn't a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness" (83-84).

Through this law of Sameness, as far as the weather is concerned, they were able to people eliminate world hunger by extending and controlling the growing seasons.

Disadvantages - In order to enjoy all of the advantages mentioned above, however, the people of this society gave up personal freedoms such as choosing one's life-long profession, partner, and family. Further, because of the law of "Sameness," the people live without color, personal preferences, the ability to accomplish one's own dreams, and historical memories. Living without personal experiences and memories, though, prohibits people from understanding the highs and lows of humanity. Without difficult trials and pain, for example, people cannot show true sympathy or empathy. People who do not understand deep pain cannot contemplate the difference between right and wrong; nor do they value human life as deeply. This makes it easier for people like Jonas's dad do inhuman things, like killing babies, without blinking an eye.

"To his surprise, his father began very carefully to direct the needle into the top of newchild's forehead, puncturing the place where the fragile skin pulsed. The newborn squirmed, and wailed faintly. . .

He killed it! My father killed it! Jonas said to himself, stunned at what he was realizing. He continued to stare at the screen. . .

The Giver turned to him. 'Well, there you are, Jonas. You were wondering about release,' he said in a bitter voice" (149-151).

The society calls death being Released. This is another downside to the community--whoever doesn't fit their ideal picture of a human is "released". 


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