The Giver by Lois Lowry was published in 1993 by Houghton Mifflin Company. It was the winner of the 1994 Newberry Medal as well as many other awards. The story takes place in a high fantasy world where there are no memories, no pain, and no color. We first meet the main character Jonas who is an 11 year old boy and anxiously awaiting his Ceremony of the Twelve. At this ceremony he would learn what his life assignment would be for the rest of his life as selected by the Elders. Jonas lives with his father who is a nurturer, mother who works in the Department of Juice, and seven year old sister, Lily. There are many rules in this world. Each “family unit” is allowed one son and one daughter. There is no poverty, crime, inequality, or pain. No one keeps track of their age after 12. Children are assigned to families, not born. Everyone is extremely polite, mannerly, and conservative. Sounds like a dream, right?
Anyway, we are introduced to Jonas’s best friend Asher who is lively and a bit goofy as well as Jonas’s crush, Fiona. Although Jonas doesn’t actually understand that he has a crush on her since all “stirrings” are subdued by taking pills. Jonas enjoys playing with his friends, following the rules of his community, and spending time with his family. We learn that Jonas’s father is a nurturer who takes care of the newborns and also releases (kills) them if necessary. However his father has brought home a baby named Gabriel that is struggling and he hopes to make him stronger so he doesn’t need to be released before the Naming Ceremony. The family begins to feel a bond with Gabriel but more so Jonas than anyone else.
Finally, Ceremony Day arrives and Jonas watches the children go through their ceremonies. When the Ceremony of the Twelve arrives, Fiona gets the Caretaker of the Old job and his best friend Asher gets Assistant Director of Recreation. But when it was supposed to be Jonas’s turn to be called, they skipped him! Everyone was shocked and terrified… why was he skipped? Finally at the end of the ceremony it is noted that Jonas was skipped because his job is that important. He is named “The Receiver of Memory.” He is not entirely sure what this job entails except that it is the most important job of all and that he must go with the elderly man called “The Receiver” We come to find out that The Receiver is now "The Giver" to Jonas. The Giver is the man who stores all memories inside him so that the people of the community do not need to remember. Every day during his training, Jonas would receive memories from The Giver by having The Giver touch his back and transport them into his mind. Some of the memories were incredible ones like sledding down a hill, Christmas, seeing colors, and love. But most were bad including sunburn, pain, and war. Basically any memory that would elicit feelings from the past. It was then that Jonas completely started to change. “Although he had through the memories learned about the pain of loss and loneliness, now he gained, too, an understanding of solitude and its joy,” (Lowry 122). He couldn’t believe how much the people didn’t know and couldn’t comprehend how much pain The Giver had to hold on to through these memories.
Months passed as Jonas accepted more and more memories from The Giver so that he could soon take over his job as The Giver wanted to be released. The job before Jonas arrived belonged to a woman named Rosemary, who couldn’t handle the memories. Instead, she committed suicide by asking to be released. Jonas is hopeful that he will be a stronger Receiver than she was. We find out later that Rosemary was actually The Giver’s daughter. Receivers of Memory had special privileges that other members of the community did not. One of those privileges was that they could watch releasing videos if they wished. Jonas’s father had told him that he needed to release a twin one morning and Jonas wished to watch the video since he did not fully understand what release meant. After watching his father inject a liquid into the baby’s head and seeing it die; Jonas remembered a memory of death and panicked. This was a turning point for Jonas. He felt lied to and betrayed! Jonas didn’t want to hold on to all of these memories anymore and felt that the people should feel them. This gave The Giver the idea of letting the people feel their own feelings. He said, “If you get away, if you get beyond, if you get to Elsewhere, it will mean that the community has to bear the burden themselves, of the memories you had been holding for them,” (Lowry 156). He went on to say, “And having you here with me over the past year has made me realize that things must change. For years I’ve felt that they should, but it seemed so hopeless. Now for the first time I think there might be a way,” (Lowry 155). So, that was their plan. Jonas was to leave in the middle of the night with all the memories that The Giver had given him so that the community could change and people could feel again. He decided that people needed to feel and needed memories for they were better than having none at all. “His thoughts continued. If he had stayed, he would have starved in other ways. He would have lived a life hungry for feelings, for color, for love,” (Lowry 174).
The night that he was supposed to leave, Jonas’s father announced to the family that Gabe would be released in the morning which understandably greatly upset Jonas who was full of feelings and memories. After dinner, Jonas stole his father’s bike, took Gabe, and fled like the plan said. The two boys were on the run for many days through the snow and cold temperatures. They ran low on food and grew very tired. Jonas’s anxiety was through the roof as he imagined the people searching for him. Then finally in the last chapter, the boys reach the top of a hill that seems familiar. He remembers it from his sled memory and there is a sled on the top of the hill. The two boys ride down the hill on the sled and see a building with lights and they hear music. But the last sentence is very misleading by saying, “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,” (Lowry 180).
The themes and ideas in The Giver were absolutely fascinating to me. Entrusting one human in the entire community to ALL memories both good and bad? NO feelings at all? No colors? Government chooses everything for you? The people are more like robots than they are human beings. But isnt this the direction our world is going in? It is scary to think about. I understand why The Giver is controversial and one of the most highly censored books in education although I do not agree with it. Yes, there are some adult themes in this book but isn’t censorship what The Giver was all about anyway? Trying to “protect” people by censorship is the same as protecting people in the story from feelings. It is better to let people feel emotions sort through it themselves than to make those decisions for them. I keep going back to one particular line in the story:
‘Or what if,’ he went on, almost laughing at the absurdity, ‘they chose their own jobs?’
‘Frightening, isn’t it?’ The Giver said.
Jonas chuckled. ‘Very frightening. I can’t even imagine it. We really have to protect people from wrong choices.’
‘Yes,’ Jonas agreed. ‘Much safer.’” (Lowry 99)
Does safer mean better? Or does safer just mean we are shielding people from the realities of the world? I personally believe that books should not be censored. Of course, parents reserve the right to decide what their child reads and does not read. However, shouldn’t students be given the fair chance to create their own meaning from the story? Maybe I have difficulty with censorship because I am not yet a parent but, what are parents so afraid of? That their children will disobey their parenting skills and values and suddenly jump on board with the themes in the latest book they’re reading? We need to have more faith in children. Authors write stories for readers and they expect readers to bring their own memories and feelings to the book. If we censor the books that people are able to read then all we are doing is creating the same robot/emotionless people that are in The Giver. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Giver and recommend it to everyone and anyone, as long as it is developmentally appropriate. It was an eye opening book and more people today need to read it!