I read The Giver last year, a book that has been around since the early 1990’s and was made into a movie in 2014. I’m pretty sure I did not take away what I was supposed to, or at least what most people probably did, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Jonas is a 12-year old growing up in a society that has embraced “sameness.” Everyone takes a pill to suppress strong emotions and no one can see color. Every 12-year-old is assigned a career, or rather purpose, that they will be doing for the rest of their lives. The elders watch everyone very closely to make sure the selections will be successful, and this applies to “family units” as well. Husbands, wives and children are selected for one another by the elders. Everything the community does is very procedural.
All of this, especially to anyone who has grown up with the American cultural emphasis on freedom of choice and individuality, is meant to seem horrible and something to be fought against. In our culture it’s frowned upon to be the same as everyone else. We like to believe we are unique individuals and other cultures that go against that ideal are to be fought against.
But I don’t know. It all seemed rather nice to me, to be honest. Every evening at dinner they would share their days with one another and actually discuss the feelings they had experienced. The rest of the family would help one another understand these feelings and offer solutions. For example, Jonas’ younger sister explained that she had felt angry that day when children from another community had come to visit on a field trip, and they didn’t follow the rules that Lily and her classmates had to follow. Her parents helped her understand that the children from the other community probably had different rules than this community and didn’t even know they were breaking them. Once Lily understood, her anger faded. If families really did this, I’m sure the emotional IQ and maturity of kids growing up today would be so much higher, resulting in fewer fights, lower crime, probably fewer wars.
I’m a fairly procedurally-focused person myself so the idea that someone else would choose my profession for me, after careful examination and observation for 12 years, doesn’t sound all that bad. What if the elders chose wrong and you were stuck in a job you hated? The book is very clear that this didn’t happen, or at least presents no evidence that it did. When the assignments take place every child seems pleased with the results.
Of course, there is always a seedy underbelly written in to a society like this, and the community in The Giver is no exception. If someone breaks the rules too many times, they are released, which means executed by lethal injection. The elderly are released when they reach an appointed time. Infants that don’t thrive (for example, a baby that won’t sleep through the night once it reaches a certain age) are released. Twins are not allowed so when that happens, whichever one weighs less is released. This is obviously very wrong and it is the one and only time Jonas, the main character, questions the life the community has set up for him. Otherwise, no complaints. Jonas and all the other members of the community, except the ones who do the releasing, believe that released individuals are sent Elsewhere, an unknown place, but thought to be another community. When he finds out the truth, he is disgusted and kidnaps a baby that was scheduled for release, searching for another, safer community to become a part of.
Almost secondary to this plot is The Giver/Receiver story line. Jonas’ appointed profession is that of the Receiver of Memories. The previous Receiver now becomes the Giver. The Giver bestows all the memories and history of the world onto the next Receiver, memories which the public at large know nothing about. After that it’s the Receiver’s job to provide wisdom to the Elders when a new situation arises that they have not dealt with before. The Receiver relies on the memories of the past to make an informed recommendation and provide guidance. Jonas begins receiving these memories and finds that he feels some things should not have been given up in deference to Sameness, things like color and the feeling of love. However, it’s not until he witnesses the release of an infant that he has any real qualms about how things are done in the community. The memories, I felt, were such a small part of Jonas’ decision to leave the community that perhaps it was an unnecessary part of the story. It could have been left out.
And yes, the Giver helped Jonas get away, but it seemed to me that it was for very, very selfish reasons. Someone had been chosen before Jonas to be the next Receiver. It happened to be the Giver’s daughter. When she learned the truth and received memories of war and despair, she requested to be released. When she died, all the memories that had transferred from her father to her were given back to the people since the Giver cannot receive a given memory back. The people didn’t know what to do, chaos ensued and the Giver, overwrought with grief, did not help them.
This time, with Jonas, he had his opportunity to make up for his mistakes, to become the hero of the community. The idea was that Jonas would take his bike down to the river, leaving it there so people would believe he had drowned. He would then run away to Elsewhere. As he got further and further from the community, the memories he’d received would leave him and “float” back to the members of the community. The Giver would then have his second chance to help the community cope, while Jonas wandered the proverbial desert, looking for something better, and risking his life and the life of the child he brought with him. The Giver remains safely back at the community.
The book ends with Jonas finding a sled that he had seen in a memory, and sledding down the same hill from the memory, to where he believed safety waited.
How was the sled and hill a memory that had been given to him, if the “memory” happened after it had been transferred to Jonas? Were the memories then of both past and future? What happens to Jonas and the baby he rescued, Gabriel? Did the Giver actually help the community cope with the loss of Jonas and Gabriel, as well as the gain of the memories they had willfully given up? I know some of these questions will probably be answered in the following books, but I’m not really motivated to read them. In a way, I prefer being left with the questions. Plus I feel like I read altogether too much young-adult fiction last year. Time to read slightly more adult things 😉