Tripp's Reviews > The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowry
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Sep 11, 2011

bookshelves: scarlett

One of Scarlett's 6th grade Language Arts books, as I continue my effort to keep abreast of what's going on in her educational life. Published in 1993, this is a dystopian, social science fiction novel for middle-graders, written in close 3rd person pov (except for the occasional lapse into omniscience) that won the Newbery Medal.

Jonas is the 12-year old pov character. His world long ago chose Sameness, meaning they abolished many unpleasant aspects of life, such as crime, at the expense of many of the pleasures of being an individual. Jonas is chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory, and so undergoes training by the current Receiver, an old man. It is a process of literal memory transmission; a Receiver functions as the community's institutional memory--he or she contains all memories, even back to what we would regard as contemporary life, and even on, back to ancient times. This is so that no other community member has to be burdened with these memories of pre-Sameness life.

The knowledge Jonas gains from these memories leads to dissatisfaction with life as he knows it. When he discovers that Release--a procedure for the very old, the newly born who don't seem to be healthy, and those who break the rules three times--is actually death by lethal injection, he takes a colicky toddler he's been caring for from infancy and who is scheduled for release because he can't sleep peacefully through the night, and tries to find Elsewhere, a fabled place where life is not lived according to Sameness.

The end of the book, with Jonas and Gabe, the toddler, nearly frozen in a snowstorm as they try to find shelter, is written so as to be ambiguous--does Jonas find Elsewhere right as his strength fails him?--but a close reading leads to the conclusion that he has learned how to have memories of his own, and these, plus the memories he got from the Giver, his name for the old Receiver of Memory, are where he escapes to as he and Gabe falter in the snow, soon to die. Think of the ending of Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

However, such memories are said by the Giver to escape from a dying Receiver and back into the community, in some unspecified way, where they will cause all manner of havoc, a la Pandora's box, and possibly lead to a change in the way society is organized--perhaps not so much Sameness, the thin sliver of hope held out by the novel's conclusion. This unusual interpretation of how memory works, being unexplained, seems like a deux ex machina and therefore not satisfying, in what was otherwise a solid effort.
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