The Giver is a dystopian novel set around the life of a young boy, Jonah, and his community. In this community everything is regulated – careers, family size, emotion, even the temperature. At the age 12, when all children are assigned to their life’s work, Jonah is given the job of The Giver. The Giver is the one person entrusted with all the memories of humanity. For decades all other citizens have been denied knowledge of the pain, fear, and joy people experienced before the community was “perfected.” They are given only “the sameness.” The job of The Giver is both beautiful and torturous. It also gives Jonah an understanding that no one else in his community could possibly have – an understanding that makes it impossible to go back to the content, secure life he knew before.
The Giver is not exactly pop fiction. It has been a classic staple in American middle school classrooms since it won The Newberry Award in 1994. I decided to read it because my younger daughter was reading it for school. I don’t read everything she reads, but I knew The Giver was considered a classic for a reason. I just didn’t know what the reason was.
I was blown away by this novel. The parallels between Jonah’s community and our modern culture are chilling. The people of Jonah’s community possess the technology to regulate everything. This allows them to avoid pain, but it also costs them any true joy. It robs them of any real attachment to others and of a conscience. While our modern technology isn’t quite that all-pwerful, it can be spectacularly numbing. There is a particular scene in the novel that drives this point home dramatically. I don’t want to give anything away, but the scene illustrates how seemingly decent people can commit horrific acts of cruelty and violence because these acts are the societal norm.
The Giver is a must for young readers, but it should be coupled with discussion. There is a movie version of The Giver coming out starring Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep. Parent and kids will likely want to read and discuss the book before seeing the Hollywood version of this story.
LANGUAGE – No. It’s a perfect world, no need to curse.
VIOLENCE – The people in this novel live in near perfect harmony, but not with out eliminating some problems. There is so graphic violence, but there is at least one disturbing scene.
SEXUALCONTENT– The “stirrings” of the adolescent citizens are controlled with medication. Some parents might want to discuss what is meant by “stirrings.”
SUPERNATURAL ELEMENTS – None
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why do you think dystopian literature so popular?
2. Is there something appealing about living in a pleasant world with no pain, or does it sound too boring?
3. What do the people of the community lose by having “the sameness?”
4. Do you think Jonah’s parent’s love him?
5. Why is what happens to Baby Gabe so disturbing and shocking?
6. Why would being The Giver be so hard? Would you rather to be a Giver with all that knowledge or a community member living in blissful ignorance?
7. Why is free will essential to being truly good, happy, or free?
“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
“We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”
“I liked the feeling of love,’ [Jonas] confessed. He glanced nervously at the speaker on the wall, reassuring himself that no one was listening. ‘I wish we still had that,’ he whispered. ‘Of course,’ he added quickly, ‘I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.”
“It’s the choosing that’s important, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘the whole world’ or ‘generations before him.’I thought there was only us. I thought there was only now.”