David's Reviews > The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
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Sep 26, 2013

did not like it

There is a moment three-fourths through the novel where Jonas’ family is seated for dinner, and as they do every night, they share the feelings they had that day. His mother is sad, his sister is angry and Jonas, now that he’s the new Receiver, doesn’t have to take part in this little group therapy. He’s learned to much too talk.

Instead, he sits by and critiques his family with teenage angst and internal monologue. His mother is sad, but he’s felt true grief. His sister is angry, but that’s really just exasperation and he’s felt rage. He cannot explain to these people what he’s experienced through the magical memory transfer in the Giver. Their limited understanding of the “human experience” deprives them so much that his mother ridiculously thinks her anger is anger. Jonas, and Lowry, tells us it’s not.

Wait, what?

They’re not angry? Why? Because they don’t really know pain, that the shallow existence they lead in this communist crèche, freed from having to make hard choices about life, prevents them from knowing the Truth, from feeling life. Because they don’t really know him! They couldn’t possibly understand him!

*ahem* So, the kid’s hitting puberty; we’ll give him a pass at the family dinner. But I’m not so willing for Lowry.

The Giver gives the Receiver memories, and because Lowry’s dystopia is so darn un-American, with its government chosen jobs and arranged marriages, it’s really really easy to like and agree with Jonas as he becomes more like us and less like them. He takes a pill so he won’t desire girls, and at the same time, enjoys his psychic memory hallucination of sledding. Who doesn’t like sledding? Who wants to take a pill that makes you asexual?

Unless you’re a hydrophobic monk, his emotional argument isn’t an actual argument, but a presentation of the bizarre and straw-man against the familiar and asking the reader to take a stand. We cheer when he stops the pill and starts having wet dreams because, darnit, though embarrassing, that’s so human! We’re human! Those wacko folks around Jonas must be robots. Communist robots.

Jonas’ day to day life ends up being bizarre and his dreams, very sane seeming. We nod with him when he critiques his mother and we think, “What a sheltered child. This world, this place, prevents people from experiencing what it means to be human. His parents can’t even say they love him! How sad! All the Sameness, how bad!”

I might agree, but I have an Uncle who fought in Vietnam.

I made the mistake once of asking him about it. It was a school project and I was supposed to interview someone who lived through the war; bonus points if they fought. I’m still not sure what the teacher was thinking other than to make sure all his students really understood Rambo.

Uncle never really answered any questions past the first few, and finally he stopped the interview. He looked at me and said in the most serious, dangerous voice I’ve heard, “You wouldn’t understand, kid. That kind of thing, you wouldn’t get it. You can’t. So leave me alone.” I left and he sat on the porch for the rest of the day staring off into some memory that wouldn’t leave.

I have always been damn glad I *don’t* understand.

That’s the dirty trick behind the Giver. Each and every one of us lives in a pampered world, with just as many limits, barricades, and group-imposed mandates as Jonas. We have complex social structures that control everything we do. They’re just different.

So we scorn the communistic life he lives and agree wholeheartedly that people should see in color, have the choice of what job they work at, and that you should be able to have more than two children. Unless the reader is Chinese, in which case this probably comes off as extravagant.

Meanwhile, we drive the speed limit in heavily regulated cars, nod to the policeman who punishes dozens and dozens of various crimes and are confident that OSHA will require our employer to not negligently kill us. I’m sure those would confuse the hell out of Jonas.

The author wants to reader to find nothing but restrictions and denials in Jonas’ world, restrictions that prevent him from experiencing the fullness of the human experience! I see them all the time in our world too, and I’m often very, very glad.

The true limits of the human experience are horrible, really excruciatingly appallingly bad. Robert Burns was right, and we do our level best to avoid man’s inhumanity to man. Until you’ve been raped by a Bosnian rape squad, fought rats for rotten food, and gotten trench foot, you don’t even get to start talking about the limits of the human experience. We gladly trade away vast amounts of choice and freedom for a life without those memories. We structure our entire culture around the prevention of a lot of what we never, ever want to know. How many of us have been stabbed? Tortured? Enslaved? We have professional soldiers because most of us don’t want to do the job. Often, we don’t even want to know about the job.

But, I’m not angry because I’ve never felt bloodlust? Not sad because I’ve never held my buddy's guts in while he told me to tell his mom he loves her? Not scared because I’ve never hid in a foxhole while artillery splintered the trees above?

Whenever a child tells me they hurt, I listen and take it seriously. It very well may be the worst pain she’s ever felt, regardless of what it would feel like to me to stub a toe. I listen, because I’d want my uncle to listen to me. Because emotions are subjectively powerful.

If Jonas is right, then none of us get to complain. Ever. Our emotions are meaningless and trivial, pointless affectations of a person who hasn’t really experienced life. Even if those experiences will give you a thousand-yard stare. Follow that link. Tell that Italian soldier how angry you were yesterday.

Now imagine the person who could stare into those eyes and truly tell him he doesn’t know pain and fear.

They exist, if you can call that existence.

What would you happily give up to not be that person?

I’d start with a lot of my “freedoms” and start thinking about limbs. Assuming that person has any left.

Lowry doesn’t talk about all the memories Jonas got, though she mentions one that was bad. A war, an injured boy, cannons in the distance, not something any of us want to experience. At the end, when the memories leave Jonas and fly back to his people, giving them the “wisdom” they bring, the music and the color, Lowry tells us Jonas hears singing back in his old home.

I always wonder who got that memory, or the dozens of others that should and could have been worse. Could Jonas just not hear the crying above the song? Did she just hang herself quietly?

Jonas’ world isn’t that different from our own. His life, not that different from our lives. Lowry needs it to be because without it, her message fades away: Choices. Life is all about choices and without choices there is no freedom and without freedom no real experiences and no “wisdom”. Jonas doesn’t have any, supposedly, and that’s just wrong and bad. There is a moral message here. It condemns the large choice Jonas’ people made because it ends up limiting the small choices.

It condemns without proving, like a sermon, instead of a debate. Just like a sermon, it seems to point of some intangible as authority without bothering to give it a name. It seems we’re just supposed to know already.

We make choices all the time, and some of them are collective. As a people we chose to not really experience the limits of human pain tolerance. The people of the Giver have made the same choice, but because we’re never told why, it’s easy to assume it was a baseless assault on the wonders of personal freedom. Could it be, like ourselves, that it was done to limit pain for everyone?

People will disagree with me, saying I’m missing the point. It’s the inability to make the little choices, between red and blue tunics, between jobs, that make choice important or life worth living. They’ve given up everything to be free from everything, and that’s not right. Unlike us, who’ve merely given up a lot to be free from a lot. It’s the tunics that matter in life.

It’s not? Where’s the proof? What’s the actually argument? That freedom to choose your job is important? If you want to say that, fine, but you need to make an argument each time you level the powerful accusation of “bad”. With it comes a duty. A duty to make your case. I’ll argue back. If I couldn’t pick the color of my shirt anymore, that all shirts were black, but I would never get a paper cut again or stub my toe, I’d seriously consider it.

Throw in a freedom from the migraines I get and I’d say yes. Shirts don’t help when I’m lying in a dark room wondering why the sun is so bright.

There isn’t an argument here, with facts and progression and debate. It’s just jingoism and individualism triumphing over a straw-man village full of straw-persons. Jonas feels they should know the truth! Freedom! Choice!

Is this book so popular in school because his village is every high-school that doesn’t let you pick electives and makes you wear a uniform? There’s a reason for that, you know. It would have been nice to know Lowry’s.

I don’t want to experience all of life. Just some of it. I want to love, work, write, and play, and I’m very, very pleased to live in a country that does its level best to wall off a lot of humanity from its humans. If that means I never get to rape or kill, well, I’ll give up that freedom if it means I probably won’t get raped or killed.

Mostly, it’s because I looked into that soldier’s eyes. Let Jonas and the Giver keep their memories. I’m angry enough as it is. I don't want to find out I'm actually just peeved.

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message 1: by Simeon (last edited Dec 09, 2010 09:19AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Simeon David wrote: (from a different thread) "Oh? Interesting. Why is what I said nothing? I'd like to know, in all seriousness."

You start off harping the premise that "they don’t really know pain," which makes their feelings shallow. To illuminate this self-evident obviousness takes you roughly, let's see... 5 paragraphs.

And of course, since anyone in excess of half a brain (so, not Keely) already knows this, by now readers of your review have begun a desperate struggle against sleep.

Unsatisfied with this line of soporific trolling, and with an air of near psychic insight, you begin an examination of why Lowry wrote what. Not what he wrote; not the writing specifically: but why he wrote it.

“It condemns without proving, like a sermon, instead of a debate.”

This sentence is moronic on two levels. First of all is your implication that the novel does not aim to tell a story, but to manipulate. You’re welcome to say that, if you want, but by the rules of logic, you must prove it sometime before taking it for granted to be true.

Your second fallacy is your assumption of the possible existence of a debate, and that the job of an author is to fulfill one or more sides of such a debate, and that you can disagree with him.

Believe it or not, that’s quite a common complaint of noob readers everywhere - rednecks in particular - anytime they come across a story that fails to match their personal view of reality (especially religion). They almost believe they can argue with the author through the pages.

Any fiction is perspective. It’s a glimpse of the world through someone else’s eyes, complete with new belief systems and brand new physical laws. No more, no less. From that, you can take whatever you want: entertainment, philosophy, questions, or answers. The advent of fiction brought with it experiential metadata heretofore utterly unavailable.

That you would call any story manipulation, because you may or may not agree with what you may or may not have accurately construed to be the authors personal opinion is a perversion of fiction on par with hating the General Theory of Relativity because of its religious implications.

As for the concept of a story as debate, I hear this from noobs all the time: “This story is a one sided debate.”

Such a statement deserves equal parts pity and disgust.

A debate requires 2 or more parties.

A story is not an argument.

A story is not a democracy.

A story is not a discussion.

A story is complete in and of itself. You can’t disagree or debate with fiction any more than you can disagree with a painting or a piece of music.


Ever heard of the multiverse theory of physics? It describes a chaotic inflation in an infinite ergodic universe, so that each time there’s an alternate possibility, a new universe is born to play its host.

By this theory, every fictional narrative ever told is true.

An author cannot be disagreed with through narrative. The world he has created is not a debate. What he says, goes. If he tells you that gravity goes backwards, or that characters believe insane things, then that’s how it is, and arguing with him after-the-fact is like pissing into the wind.

From any fiction then, you can take away as much or as little as you want.

Books are not a circlejerk.

Stories do not exist to suit or please us. They do not exist to reflect our ideals or even reality. If it were so, you may as well skip HP, because witches and wizards are not real, or because you were upset that Dumbledore turned out to be gay (which was fucking awesome), and you felt manipulated into liking him. While you’re at it, forget LOTR, because the politics of Middle Earth don’t fit your personal modus operandi of international diplomacy. Oh, and go ahead and trash GRRM, too, since incest is gross and it makes you feel icky. (Unless, as Keely says, the incest is written by a woman, because then it’s awesome! Mmmmmmmm.)

“As a people we chose to not really experience the limits of human pain tolerance. The people of the Giver have made the same choice, but because we’re never told why, it’s easy to assume it was a baseless assault on the wonders of personal freedom.”

The passive voice can let you get away with a lot, huh?

“It’s easy to assume,” by whom? You? If you were lead to this assumption because you’re an idiot with half my IQ, that’s awesome, dude. But do not assume anyone other than you wallows in that ignorance. It's called Faulty Generalization. I personally haven’t committed such an absurd fallacy since I was ten years old, and you’re what, early 20s?

“People will disagree with me, saying I’m missing the point.”

Since you'd be laughed out of the room by any self-respecting literature professor I’ve ever met (and damn if I haven’t known far too many of those pompous bastards), I tend to agree.

By the way, what I just did there is called Appeal to Authority. ;)

“What’s the actually argument?”


This illiterate sentiment summarizes your entire review. You want an argument, because you disagree (you never specifically say with what), and are upset when you can’t find an argument. But see, you can't find it because, well, it doesn't exist. The Giver is a story. And you can’t argue with a story any more than you can argue with a photograph.

You and Keely both miss this point.

Outside the basic style and grammar of narrative prose, the author of any fiction does not matter. I could tell you it was written by a man, or a woman, or an arsenic based life form, and since it’s an imaginary story, your treatment of it should be the same.

Sometimes a novel deals with events you’d rather not see, and sometimes the plot is boring, or straight up stupid. But spending pages upon pages lambasting an author for writing something you didn't like is equivalent to attacking a photographer for taking an unappealing photo.

In the end, I can answer that you said nothing, because you concluded nothing. You began by stating the obvious, moved on to telling us the author’s purpose (wildly misinterpreting it), and then said:

“I don’t want to experience all of life. Just some of it. I want to love, work, write, and play,”

A truism so blatant, I defy you to find someone who disagrees.

And yet write it like some iconoclast of self-discovery! "Hey look at me everyone, I don't want to experience ultimate pain and grief! YAAAAYYYY!"


And that was your conclusion? That's what you wrote three pages to tell us. Holy mother of god, but I've had houseplants more clever than you are.

By the way, did you ever consider that a lack of real hardship spoils us a different way? That it is not only in choice and freedom that the characters are bereft? That anyone may have interpreted the book as a cautionary tale of those who try to avert their eyes to grief and pain? That this could be the path to forgetfulness and non-meaning?

Does this not apply today?

Perhaps every time another child dies of a disease we eradicated decades ago; or when we are silent on the matter of 27,000,000 slaves in the world today, more than any time in humanity's brief existence? In the face of the UN's inaction in Rwanda? Does it apply when the cost of feeding the entire planet is roughly equivalent to 1 month of our military budget in Afghanistan; when the cost of sending people to Mars is less than the annual price of air conditioned tents in Iraq; when the Republicans are at this moment denying tax cuts to 98% of Americans because millionaires are just not rich enough?

Could it be that we have forgotten, as the people in The Giver did, what it means to suffer, to fight, to be human? Did we free the slaves of America that we may sit and watch new ones die in the millions all over a world 200 hundred years later?

Or have we merely forgotten for our own good, because it does not affect us, and because averting our eyes is easy?

The above isn't even my personal interpretation of The Giver. It is only one of countless. But I gotta say, it's a fuckton more interesting than your spoiled-little-brat diatribe.

It must be nice thinking the way you do... but to me, The Giver warns only of the price of ignorance.

And you see, David, you are that price.

kisha I enjoyed reading your review. I'm surprised that you have given this book one star. You seem to argue that you like the world of The Giver, No? You gained so much insight and perspective be it positive or negative and isn't that the point of reading? Though I gave this book 4 stars and stick by it, your review made me think on other perspectives that before I didn't consider. I'm not sure if you were bashing this book but your review was actually quit an interesting perspective. This book brought out more emotion from you then you are giving it credit for. I'd say Lowry was successful in what she wanted to accomplish (wink).

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