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Teaching Approaches

How Characterization Develops Themes in The Giver: As the protagonist, Jonas develops from a member within the two-dimensional, colorless confines of his community into a vibrant hero, ripe with moral courage, willing to risk his safety and security to save the life of an innocent child whom he loves. Aside from perhaps the Giver, Jonas is the lone character in the text with this kind of complexity. Jonas’s family and friends remain flat, functioning more to develop Jonas and his community rather than themselves as individuals. This specific use of characterization makes The Giver an excellent early text for students to analyze to understand how characterization develops themes in works of literature. 

  • For discussion: How does Jonas develop over the course of the text? What are some of the key turning points for Jonas’s character? What does he learn? How does he change? Draw on specific examples from the novel. 
  • For discussion: Both Asher and Rosemary can be read as character foils for Jonas. Compare and contrast Jonas with these two characters in terms of their perspectives and interactions with others in the community. What do the contrasts between these characters reveal about Jonas? What do they reveal about the text’s themes? 
  • For discussion: How do Jonas’s parents function in the text? What information do they convey to readers, and how do they relate to Jonas? Compare and contrast your relationships with your parents or caregivers to that of Jonas’s with his parents. 

How Symbolism Develops Themes in The Giver: In Jonas’s sparse world, the objects with which characters associate carry meaning. The apple that flickers red while Jonas is playing with it, the bicycles that citizens use to get around, the river that surrounds the community, and the comfort object that Jonas’s sister still clings to develop themes in the text. The prevalence of symbolism in the text invites readers to consider both the literal and connotative importance of a given object and how it relates to the novel’s larger themes. 

  • For discussion: Identify the concrete objects in the text that you find important. What are the figurative associations of these objects? Which themes do these objects point towards and help reveal? 
  • For discussion: Which objects in the book are red? Compare and contrast the connotative meanings of red objects in the text. How does the color red develop themes in The Giver? Are there any objects in the text that should be red that aren’t? 
  • For discussion: Which objects in your own life are symbolic? How so? Compare and contrast the objects you find personally important with the objects that Jonas finds important. 

Identifying Motifs to Establish Genre: For many students, The Giver is their first foray into analyzing dystopian literature as a genre. Like many works of Dystopian literature, The Giver depicts an authoritarian social order in which a minority of its individuals question it and attempt to flee from it. Lowry does just this, with her construction of Jonas’s peaceful, pleasant, organized community which, ultimately, Jonas chooses to abandon. Like other texts in the genre, The Giver invites students to explore their own attitudes about their own societies and the extent to which governments are justified in involving themselves in the lives of the citizenry. 

  • For discussion: How does Lowry characterize the government of Jonas’s community? Ask students to consider the role of the Speaker, the Elders, and ritual in developing the government as the antagonist in the text. 
  • For discussion: In what ways do Jonas and the Giver criticize their community? What views do the other characters express? In your view, which aspects of the community are justified and which aren’t? 
  • For discussion: Which aspects of Jonas’s society is the text specifically critical of? Are there any parallels between these aspects of Jonas’s society and the society in which students participate today? 

Analyzing Verbal and Situational Irony: For many, the...

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