It’s a constant debate: safety versus freedom. The two are not mutually exclusive, and rarely can a person, a family, a nation have one with the other. While a life can be safe (i.e. financially, emotionally, physically stable), it cannot be free. Life is bound by the nature of safety, of the rules and regulations that ensure its existence. Freedom, however, is chaotic and unpredictable and completely without any governance or guidelines. Who is to say which is better? Is safety better than freedom or vice versa? What if a group has prioritized safety to the point that the concept of freedom doesn’t exist? Is it possible to miss what you’ve never known?
Plot Overview: Sameness, Safety and Freedom
Jonas lives in a world of Sameness. There are no colors, no races, no obvious physical differences that set Jonas apart from his peers – except the light color of his eyes. Blue. But in his society, it is rude to point out that which makes one different, so his childhood is relatively free of uncomfortable attention. Instead, he lives what appears to be an idyllic childhood with his mother, who works in the justice department, and his father, a pediatrician. He also has a spunky little sister named Lily. It’s the perfect family unit.
At the ceremony of Twelve, the day when all eleven-year-olds reach their twelfth birthday (regardless of the day of their actual birth), professions are assigned, and schooling becomes specialized. Jonas and his friends, Fiona and Asher, are eager to hear what their assignments will be; they’ve been expecting the announcements and have been aware of the eyes watching them, assessing them. When Jonas’s turn arrives, however, he is mysteriously skipped over. Anxious, baffled, Jonas finds he is to be the new Receiver of Memories.
Jonas’s profession is to receive the painful memories of the past from the Giver, a man who, more than anyone in the community, bears the weight of human weakness. Although the Giver sends happy memories (snow, sledding, sunshine) to Jonas slowly and gently, he must also pass to Jonas memories of pain that Jonas cannot comprehend. Emotional pain, physical pain, war, famine, death. The sheltered boy struggles to understand what he’s receiving – and what he’s been missing: love and freedom.
Stunned by the spectrum of emotions he experiences and angered by the ignorance of his parents and his peers, Jonas decides to teach them a lesson, to release the memories to make his community more knowledgeable, more compassionate. More human. But when his father brings home baby Gabe, another child with blue eyes, Jonas and the Giver’s plan takes a startling turn.
Criticisms and Compliments
The Giver, like The Host, could be considered “gentle science fiction.” There isn’t a lot of violence (other than the ritual deaths – or “releasing” – of old people and those who make egregious mistakes) nor does the story take place on another planet, in another world or among an alien population. It is, rather, set in the United States, in a utopian future, where kids are kids, adults are adults, and pain and suffering are in the distant past. Although the reader – children in this case, though The Giver is an interesting, if simple read for any age – is immersed in the community, there needs not be a great deal of backstory and explanation for the setting. It is soft immersion.
The Giver has also frequently been compared to other utopian-based science fiction novels (Brave New World, for example); while it does draw on the generalities of utopias (safety, equality, control), The Giver is more of a coming-of-age story. Jonas is a boy confronted with complex emotions, sexuality and self-awareness. His developments make for a deep and controversial story, one that sparks conversation and debate – the sign of a good book. Which The Giver is.
- Lowry, Lois. The Giver. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993 ISBN 9780395645662