Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fiction, Fantasy and YA: The Giver

Lowry, Lois. 1999. THE GIVER. NY: Bantam Book/Random House. ISBN: 0553571338.

Like all the other kids his age, Jonas turns twelve and is assigned the adult role and job that was chosen by the Committee of the Elders. However, unlike the other kids he is instead selected to become the successor to the community’s important yet reclusive Receiver of Memories. During his training, where he receives generations’ worth of memories from The Giver, his predecessor, Jonas learns about his community before Sameness when there were emotions like love, joy, color, anger, pain, and freedom of choice. He also learns how his seemingly perfect utopian community with it rules and formality to insure the lack trouble is actually cold and void of any emotion and personal connection to one anther, as well as the true meaning of being released and being sent to the other community Elsewhere. Realizing that there is more to life than what he and his community already have, Jonas decides that everything must change and it is up to him to make it happen.

Lowry has created an amazingly thought-provoking novel about how young boy is given the responsibility of carrying the burden of generations’ worth memories in a utopian community that is completely void of anything involves rudeness, suffering, and troublesome, which includes story weather and individuality, and makes the difficult decision to flee the community and return the memories back to the people. Set on the edge of science fiction, the plot is wonderfully well developed and moves at a smooth and enticing pace due to the hints of foreshadowing of events to come, such as how Jonas was “apprehensive” about the upcoming Ceremony of Twelve where his adult assignment will be given, and due to the questions that Jonas, and Lowry, have created about the society and the memories. These questions brings to the readers to the halting climax where Jonas finally learns the true meaning of a person, an Old (an elderly person) or even a Newchild (newborn), being “Released” by watching his father inject a perfectly healthy identical twin with a concoction that kills the child because it would save the community from the confusion of seeing two child who look a like (Lowry, p. 150).

As mentioned above, Jonas’ community is in a utopian setting sometime in the future. It is impeccably clean with constant perfect weather and is without things that we would currently find in our society such as crime, starvation, poverty, rudeness, etc. There are rules that everyone must follow and if one is broken they are immediately corrected, for example, when Jonas took home an apple that had inexplicitly turned the color red, and he was corrected by the speakers that situation all over the community, “Attention. This is a reminder to male elevens that objects are not to be removed from the recreation area and that snacks are to be eaten, not hoarded” (Lowry, p. 23). For any correction of serious wrongdoing, specifically breaking the certain minor rules, there is always an apology; however, for three-times repeated offenders are “released” from the community.

The community is specifically set up for ease and perfection. Families consist of a mother a father and two children, one male and female. Spouses are chosen for them. Children are born by surrogate mothers, or Birthmothers, and are not names until they are a year old and given to a family who has submitted a request for a child. Everyone wear tunics and other clothing of no true color. At specific ages children are given certain privileges, such as at the age of seven they receive with jackets with buttons they can do and undo by themselves, age eight they are allowed to begin their volunteering. At nine they are given their bicycle and girls are allowed to stop wearing hair ribbons, and age ten they get their haircut. Finally, at twelve years old they are assigned the adult role in life and age is not longer important. When the children are grown and have spouses of their own parents are sent to live with Childless Adults , and finally when they are old they are sent to the House of the Old and await their release.

There are mentions of other communities outside of this particular one. However, there is no descriptive mention that those communities are like this one. Lily, Jonas’ little sister, tells her family during the ritual of describing how they feel during their evening dinner that she was “very angry” because a male from another community of Sevens visited her Childcare group and did not obey the rules (Lowry, p. 5). There is the place called Elsewhere where the “released” members of the community are sent. However, there is still no true description of it.

The setting appears to be extremely ideal and perfect. However, as we learn more about through the eyes of Jonas as he receives the memories we realize, examining it out of context, that this utopian community is more dystopian in nature: it is a society characterized by oppression.

The only two characters in The Giver the reader truly gets to know is Jonas and the Giver. Because they share the memories of wars, suffering, love, joy, color and they shared ability to See Beyond, such as seeing color, they have a soul and they well-developed characters. They have feelings and emotion. They ultimately create a familiar bond of a Grandfather and a grandson. In comparison to these two, the other characters appear flat. They do have deep emotions and wisdom that Jonas the Giver has. They do not understand that when the community, for example Jonas’ father who is a Nurture and cares for Newchildren, releases a person they are actually killing them. The only character that the reader can truly connect to Jonas and the Giver is the Newchild Gabe. To help the baby develop, Jonas’ father brings him at night in an attempt to help him sleep at night. Through the use of dialogue, the reader immediately learns an important characteristic about Jonas: Lily “rudely” points out that Gabe “has funny eyes like yours, Jonas” (Lowry, p. 20). Jonas and as we discover later that the Giver too has light eyes, as pale, light eyes in comparison to the dark days that everyone else in the community have. As Jonas learns that people with pale eyes have the tendency to see the beyond such as colors.

A very interesting aspect of all the characters is their impeccable use of speech. As part of the utopian ideal, the community member uses the precise words to describe their feelings or opinions. At the very beginning of the book Jonas is searching for a word that would accurately describe how he felt about his upcoming Ceremony of Twelve. Then later one, when Jonas sees the favorite memory of a family of Grandparents, parents, children and a dog celebrate Christmas a warm fireplace and feeling the love that was in the family he asks his parents if they love him. The response he receives was awkward. His parents told him he used a too general of a word that was meaningless and told him to use more of a precise word, and asked more specifically if they “enjoy him,” to which response was yes (Lowry, p. 127). Because they’re use of precise language, even young children speak with a level of maturity that is not normally seen, which is another illustration of early in life (age twelve) that children are expected to become adults. This is all done during a large ceremony that is performed during the month of December.

Jonas grows emotionally throughout the book due to his training as Receive of Memories. At the beginning of the book he is like everyone else in the community who follows the rules, even though he is at times left with questions However as he is training with the Giver, he comes to the realization that everything is not what it should be. He wants to share the experiences and images that he has; however, he cannot. Once he recognizes that his parents do not truly love him in the way that he sees in the memories, he starts his first deliberate retaliation against the rules of the community: he stops staking the daily pill that oppresses the Stirrings that are relatable to the urges felt during puberty and adulthood. He also, after accidentally doing so the first time, gives Gabe happy soothing memories at night in order for him to sleep, and ultimately creates another loving bond with the baby, which is against the rules. Finally, when he learns of Gabe’s “release” is unavoidable he makes the snap decision to flee that very night with the babe instead of the next day like planned.

The importance of memories is perhaps the predominate themes in story. Memories are a symbol for wisdom. Because of memories people can learn from the past in order to be better and more successful in the future. The Committee of Elders recognizes this importance and that is why they create the role of Receiver of Memories who will burden all the memories and who can advise the Elders in decision-makings. For example, when the Committee of Elders was considering a petition “to increase the rates of births. They wanted each Birthmother to be assigned four births instead of three, so that the population would increase and there would be more Laborers available,” they consulted the Giver and he gave a centuries old example of overpopulation that resulted in poverty and starvation (Lowry, p. 111), which resulted in the Elders declining the petition. Memories may be painful at times, which is evident in the fact that the Giver’s appears older than he truly is and because the previous Receiver-in-training Rosemary requested and performed her own “release;” however, it is better to have memories than not to have them. This is the main reason why the Giver and Jonas develop the plan to share the memories by means of Jonas escaping the community, which will disperse the memories that he had received all year long back to the people.

Lowry’s writing style is wonderfully descriptive and gripping. The community is well explained in all of its formalities to ensure peace and harmony. To describe the memories that Jonas receives, Lowry literally transports Jonas into to the memories, much like vivid dreams or visions, so that he can experience the pain or emotion such as crashing a snow sled and breaking his leg, but suddenly he returns back to the Annex where the Giver lives (Lowry, p. 109). That is how Jonas can feel the love from the family and warmth of the fire in the Christmas memory. There is even a wonderful description of the Giver’s living quarters that is warm, colorful and full of books that is drastically different to the home Jonas’ family.
The Giver is narrated in third-person limited that allows the readers insight to Jonas thoughts and feelings only. The decision for using the third-person narration then allows the readers more of a overview of the community that is not entirely through Jonas’ point-of-view. Dialogue is well used for all of the characters. As discussed above the speech patterns is very specific in its purpose, even for young children. The overall mood that is presented in the books is that even though everything appears perfect and right, which can be comforting, there is also something wrong with it, which is reinforced when Jonas and the Giver decides that things must change.

The last gripping part of the book is the ending. Using is wisdom that he has gained, Jonas protects himself and Gabe from the search planes, travels through unknown terrain, and suffer pain and starvation. However, he knows that this was a better life than what he left behind. At the very end he sees in the distance a warmly lit and welcoming house and he hears music and singing before him and possibly behind him. Lowry leaves the readers wondering if he had finally found a populated community.

Lois Lowry’s book The Giver is an incredible book that will entice both young adult readers and adults alike and will induce critical thinking of many aspects. It truly deserves its Newbery Award.

In a radical departure from her realistic fiction and comic chronicles of Anastasia, Lowry creates a chilling, tightly controlled future society where all controversy, pain, and choice have been expunged, each childhood year has its privileges and responsibilities, and family members are selected for compatibility. As Jonas approaches the ``Ceremony of Twelve,'' he wonders what his adult ``Assignment'' will be. Father, a ``Nurturer,'' cares for ``newchildren''; Mother works in the ``Department of Justice''; but Jonas's admitted talents suggest no particular calling. In the event, he is named ``Receiver,'' to replace an Elder with a unique function: holding the community's memories--painful, troubling, or prone to lead (like love) to disorder; the Elder (``The Giver'') now begins to transfer these memories to Jonas. The process is deeply disturbing; for the first time, Jonas learns about ordinary things like color, the sun, snow, and mountains, as well as love, war, and death: the ceremony known as ``release'' is revealed to be murder. Horrified, Jonas plots escape to ``Elsewhere,'' a step he believes will return the memories to all the people, but his timing is upset by a decision to release a newchild he has come to love. Ill-equipped, Jonas sets out with the baby on a desperate journey whose enigmatic conclusion resonates with allegory: Jonas may be a Christ figure, but the contrasts here with Christian symbols are also intriguing. Wrought with admirable skill--the emptiness and menace underlying this Utopia emerge step by inexorable step: a richly provocative novel. (Fiction. 12+) (March 1, 1993)

Gr 6-9-- In a complete departure from her other novels, Lowry has written an intriguing story set in a society that is uniformly run by a Committee of Elders. Twelve-year-old Jonas's confidence in his comfortable ``normal'' existence as a member of this well-ordered community is shaken when he is assigned his life's work as the Receiver. The Giver, who passes on to Jonas the burden of being the holder for the community of all memory ``back and back and back,'' teaches him the cost of living in an environment that is ``without color, pain, or past.'' The tension leading up to the Ceremony, in which children are promoted not to another grade but to another stage in their life, and the drama and responsibility of the sessions with The Giver are gripping. The final flight for survival is as riveting as it is inevitable. The author makes real abstract concepts, such as the meaning of a life in which there are virtually no choices to be made and no experiences with deep feelings. This tightly plotted story and its believable characters will stay with readers for a long time. --Amy Kellman, The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (May 1, 1993)

*Ask the discussion group what they thought of the ending and how they interpreted it. Does Jonas and Gabe survive?
*Discuss the foreshadowing of events.
*Discuss the meaning of the name of Rosemary, the last Reciever-in-Training, and Gabe (Gabriel) and how are they connected to the story.
*Have the readers read Lois Lowry’s sequels Blue Gathering and Messenger, which will provide an answer to the question Jonas and Gabe’s survival, and have them discuss the plot of the books in relation to The Giver.

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