What You Need to Know:|
• Winner of the 1994 Newbery Medal and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.
• A Controversial story, it is on the American Library Association’s list of Top 100 most frequently challenged or
• Often used in classroom lesson plans.
• A rock band that formed in 1995 took its name, Jonas Sees in Color, from this book.
• Death, suicide and sexual awareness are subtly touched upon.
What is it about The Giver that makes it so meaningful? I guess the fact that I’ve been thinking about it since I started it, tells you something. Maybe that’s the main point here – The Giver will make you think. It isn’t long (under 200 pages) or overly complex in the story line. It is almost the simplicity of Lowry’s straightforward approach that leaves readers with so much to contemplate. The Giver begins like any other book about an eleven year-old boy who is trying to understand his feelings, his friendships and his family life. The more we learn about Jonas, though, the more we realize that his world is very different from our own. While his life is, at first, familiar in that he goes to school, teases his sister and shares stories with his parents, Lowry gradually inserts concepts, ideas and words, that over time, form a unique, dystopian society (ala Brave New World), sometime in the future.
Jonas is an “eleven,” living in a “dwelling,” in a small community governed by a group of people called “Elders.” His community lives by a long list of rules. There is no touching others, bragging, being rude, or pointing out physical differences. It is also required that language be used with the utmost precision. Disobeying the rules can result in severe punishments. Jonas mentions being “released” and going “elsewhere” but doesn’t really seem to know the meaning of either one. He is “apprehensive” about becoming a “twelve” because that is when he will receive his “assignment” or job within the community. We also discover that in Jonas’ world, there are no birthday parties or grandparents, the rules are impossible to change, there is little room for error in thought or behavior, feelings and dreams must be shared, there are no animals, people’s spouses and children are chosen for them, “sameness” is the goal, and almost everyone is essentially colorblind.
When he does become a "twelve" and the Elders select him as the next Receiver, the person responsible for keeping the memories for the whole community, he learns that this job is a great honor but also an extraordinary burden. The Giver, who currently houses the memories, begins to pass along what he knows and Jonas finds that taking on this knowledge offers some pleasures but also grave pain. The memories provide him with an insight and perspective on the world he has always known but never truly seen. He begins to see things in color instead of shades of gray as everyone else does. He realizes that what he thought were strong emotions were barely even shallow feelings. He learns that there is a “whole world” beyond his community and generations that came before him, when he had always thought there was “only us” and “only now.” The more he learns, the more he begins to question his society, as does the reader. At first, Jonas’ world has some appeal – safe and practical, with no pain, discrimination or violence – but as we begin to understand all that is missing, questions are raised. Are those securities worth the sacrifice of freedom and choice, love and individuality? Once the truth behind the “release” program is revealed, his world almost takes on a sinister quality. The memories give Jonas knowledge and this in turn gives him power - the power to question his world and its merit.
This book is on the American Library Association’s list of most challenged books because of a few controversial scenes including one in which Jonas and another young girl, Fiona, gently bathe two elderly people and another in which Jonas dreams that he is bathing Fiona which implies an awakening of sexual desire. There is also the request for “release” which implies suicide and the revelation that “release” equals death. These disputed concepts are all subtly and cleverly explored with no gratuitous details. They play a minor role in a book that delivers a powerful and memorable message. The story is timeless, probably because Lowry does not focus on technology, and it is definitely still relevant today. It inspires readers to think about the vast world that surrounds their immediate community and those responsible for the direction in which it is moving. It questions whether something done for the safety and protection of others is necessarily the right thing to do. It also highlights the significance and value of choice, individuality and freedom. Finally, it reminds us that every individual can find the courage to change the world in which they live. All of these elements are bound to serve as an excellent starting point for thoughtful discussions. I enjoyed The Giver now, as an adult and as a mother, but I wish I had had the opportunity to read it when I was younger, as well, so I could have read it from the perspective that Lowry intended.
1993, 208 pages
Award Winners, Ethics, Family Life, Fantasy, Feelings, Good Book Club Selection, Government, Growing Up, Illness/Death, Individuality, Self-Awareness/Discovery
• What are the benefits of living in Jonas’ community?
• What would you miss most if you lived in Jonas’ world? Color? History? Family? Love? Choice? Freedom?
• Jonas and his family discuss their feelings each night but do they really have any true emotions?
• Is Jonas’ father responsible for his actions with the twin or is it because he doesn't know any better?
• Why does Jonas have the power to “see beyond”? Does it have anything to do with his eye color?
• Did you like the ending?
• Was the Giver right to send Jonas away from the community on his own?
• Does Jonas make the right choice to take Gabriel and leave?
• What do you think happens to Jonas and Gabriel in the end?
• If the governing body states that their rules are intended to help its citizens and keep them safe, how do the citizens
determine when the government has too much control?
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