Series: The Giver Quartet #1
Published by Dell on August 1, 1994
Genres: Science Fiction
In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community's Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world and struggles against the weight of its hypocrisy. With echoes of Brave New World, in this 1994 Newbery Medal winner, Lowry examines the idea that people might freely choose to give up their humanity in order to create a more stable society. Gradually Jonas learns just how costly this ordered and pain-free society can be, and boldly decides he cannot pay the price.
The Giver is set in a future society which is at first presented as a utopia and gradually appears more and more dystopic, so could therefore be considered anti-utopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. Jonas' society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to "Sameness", a plan which has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of "Receiver of Memory," the person who stores all the memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. As Jonas receives the memories from his predecessor—the "Giver"—he discovers how shallow his community's life has become.
Jonas lives in a world of Sameness. There is nothing to differentiate one person by the other, everything is seen in black and white with each year relinquishing a little of the individuality you possessed, following like a group of Lemmings. At your 12th year, you are given your assignment, and begin your training to contribute to the community. Jonas is given the responsibility of Receiver, the holder of all the world’s memories before Sameness came into being. Jonas learns the burden of carrying around thoughts of war and starvation, but understands the benefits of things like colors, and sled rides. Soon he learns due to others oblivion he will always be an outsider with his new found wisdom and wonders how long he can last.
“For the first time, he heard something that he knew to be music. He heard people singing. Behind him, across vast distances of space and time, from the place he had left, he thought he heard music too. But perhaps, it was only an echo.”
And so the story ends, with the question of, was this Jonas’ death or his savior? Does Jonas make it to Elsewhere or is it only a dream? There are many themes throughout The Giver, but I think the most obvious and stand out is what if? This society is so closed-minded that it is hard to fathom their inability to learn and look beyond to the bigger picture rather than just their sector. What if such a mask was to occur and wipe to a clean slate? True, we could do away with so much hate and hardship but is the risk worth it, or is it better to learn from our mistakes? That’s the question I believe Lowry is asking.
This was one of my favorite books growing up, I think because it was unlike anything I had read before. Even now, 10+ years later it leaves as just as large an impression. Perhaps The Giver is like a bottle of good wine, it just gets better with age.