The Giving Lois Lowry
Dystopian literature has been around for ages. Humans seek answers to the unrelenting question of what the future holds. The last great dystopian novel was George Orwell’s 1984, published in 1949. Needless to say, it had been a long time until an author had delved into that type of world. In Lois Lowry’s most famous novel The Giver, she explored the idea of a seemingly utopian dystopia.
Lois Lowry was born in Honolulu on March 20, 1937 to an Army officer father and at age 19 married a naval officer. Her son would become an Air Force pilot and die in a plane crash. She was constantly surrounded by war and often wrote about the inner lives of innocent civilian families during those troubling times. Perhaps that is why she was so curious about a time where war would no longer exist. She sought a perfect society, without crime or grief (“Lois Lowry”).
The novel The Giver centers around a young boy named Jonas who lives in a seemingly perfect community without conflict. Presumably, the world is a post apocalyptic one as we see memories from the past including images of war. Memory plays a huge role in the story. It takes place in a monotonous world. Everyone is equal and the elders of the community make every decision for you. Some are chosen to be caregivers, engineers, or farmers, but only one is chosen to be “The Receiver”. The main character is given the title of “The Receiver” and fittingly so. The Receiver is the only one who has access to human history. They possess the mental imagery of colors, animals, music, and historical events. The basis of that ostracism of information is the idea that if all of the past, good and bad, is hidden from the general population then there is less to lead to conflict. Race and status do not exist in this haven. Everyone is healthy, partially due to bikes being the primary form of transportation and disabled, elderly, and weak newborns being disposed of, or sent to “elsewhere”. “Elsewhere” is in reality just the act of euthanasia, but no one including Jonas’ doctor father comprehend the horror in the action. Jonas serves as the hero of the series. From early in his life, he questioned everything and would eventually bring society’s collective memories back to the people with the help of the previous “Receiver” now called “The Giver”(Lowry).
The largest moral of the story is the importance of memory to society at large. Memory makes the individual and shapes them into the unique character that they are. Jonas began his journey into memory by learning about the beautiful aspects of history and culture. He enjoyed music, dance, animals, and slowly began noticing colors in his own life. As he progressed in his knowledge, he learned about war and cruelty. Because he and everyone he has ever known had never experienced such things, the memories he saw were traumatizing (Lowry).
This novel was a large contribution to American Literature. Written as a children’s book, with evocative imagery, intriguing characters, and understandable vocabulary, this novel resulted in a following breaking all age and geographic barriers. The book won several awards and is usually assigned to students in school. Its fitting that young children read this book as they are often oblivious to the dangers of the world and only see the beauty in it, the same way Jonas did towards the beginning of his journey.
The memories of the characters are suppressed using daily dosages of drugs. Lois Lowry says that this idea stemmed from watching her father being put in a nursing home. He was beginning to lose memory as is usual with old age. She showed him a picture of her older sister and he couldn’t remember her name nor the fact that she had died. Lois wondered if life would be easier without those painful memories. Is it true that ignorance is bliss?
The reader questions if such a world is better than the one we are living in. If you choose to eliminate half of what you know, are you taking away half of what makes up life? This begs the question, can you truly appreciate the good in life if there is no bad to compare it to? The conflict of choice is removed from “The Giver” characters. Even before they are born, their life is planned out for them. In addition to posing philosophical questions, this novel revolutionized young adult literature and paved the way for other dystopian literature such as “The Maze Runner”, “Divergent”, and “The Hunger Games”. The initial book was followed by three more to round out “The Giver Quartet” series. Each novel followed a new character in a different type of society until all the characters meet in the last book. For example, “Gathering Blue”, the sequel, takes place in the complete opposite of the initial futuristic community and rather shows a primal way of life. In 2014, the novel became a feature film and reintroduced the world to a new generation of children.