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The Giver (The Giver, #1)
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Yoly (macaruchi) | 795 comments Don't forget to use the spoiler tags!


Gary | 1472 comments I read this one a couple of times way back in the day, but I haven't read any of the sequels. Without giving away any spoilers (maybe no more than a thumb's up/down kind of thing...) has anybody checked them out?


message 3: by Gary (last edited Sep 11, 2018 04:14PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments I've been looking around trying to find my notes for this one. Many moons ago I conducted an after-school book club (really, a reading/lit class for Jr. high school kids) and this is one of the books we covered, meaning I was, in the context of this novel, a Nurturer....

In any case, I'd take pretty extensive notes for things to go over during the classes, but I haven't located them yet. I have a few stacks of binders still to go through. I'm curious as to what I thought was notable then versus what occurs to me this time.

So far the thing that's hitting me most is what I'm going to call Orwell-lite. That is, the Orwellian use of language, but light enough to be something that a younger reader might still find palatable, or that would not twist and gnaw into the mind quite the way Orwell's language did/does. The "family unit" lives in a "dwelling" in a "community" from which people can be "released." I don't think younger readers would notice the "dwelling" rather than "home" or "house" or something less sterile, for instance. However, they might pick up on the slightly chilling use of "family unit" rather than just "family" to describe the assigned living/rearing arrangements described by the text. "Released" gets some attention during the introduction and its real meaning is described several times, so that should register.

The regimentation of the living situation might not necessarily occur to younger readers either except for at a few points. For instance, the announcements over the PA system regarding the behavior of students at school might not seem too strange to kids in schools where announcements are made routinely. However, the mandate about bicycles for 9s (I think it was) might.

Lowry does seem to always introduce various issues with what might be a comprehensibly "wrong" situation for a younger reader. The "comfort object" being used to describe not only the sterility of that concept in the world building, but that the animals they represent don't exist for them. It's a neatly done technique.


message 4: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 659 comments It's a dystopia. I've made my position on dystopias clear elsewhere on GR.


message 5: by Gary (last edited Sep 18, 2018 08:53PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments I finished this one the other day, and I've been mulling it over for a bit. "Digesting" as it were. I never did manage to find my notes from back in the day....

In any case, in this reading I find myself wondering about how something like the memory system would actually function. We get a very personal view of the relationship between Giver/Receiver, but the function of memory is presented as something that has broader implications and effects for the whole community such that it can only be akin to something like a collective, constant mind control. The ability to see color, for instance, isn't just missing because of the lack of ancestral memories, it can only be somehow actively suppressed, and what gets presented as Jonas gaining color vision as part of the process of getting memories (and some innate characteristic/sensitivity of his own) really would have to be him developing a way around or being exempted from some sort of active suppression affecting the whole of the population.

Color perception does have cultural aspects. I've seen a few anthropological/sociological studies, for instance, that indicate that certain people don't recognize shades of color in societies in which they don't have words for those shades. That's often semantic, but from what I've read there is some reason to believe that there's a perception issue as well. I remember as a kid getting into arguments about color with friends in which we argued about whether "white" and "black" were colors per se, where I argued that white and black were gradients of light, not color, and that color was the spectrum. My friends argued that white and black were colors because, duh, they have their own crayons, and if red and blue make purple, then red and white making pink proves that white is a color. (Yeah, my friends and I were weird kids....)

Highfalutin childhood philosophical discussions aside, the suppression of color in a whole population wouldn't come from memory but from some sort of massive manipulation and control. With the exception of the occasional color blind individual, something would have happen between the rods and cones of the eye and the brain to suppress the perception of color for every member of that population. Jonas color perception appears as almost delusions at first, but comes back with the acquisition of "memories" which indicates to me that he wasn't just being given (or Given, I guess...) memories, but somehow being freed from some external influence that modified his actual brain and/or nervous system. It might be something as simple as a kind of surgery that was performed on infants and Jonas just happens to be someone whose brain is somehow generating new neural pathways, but the function of the Giver as a role in society and his methods of "giving" clearly indicate that it is a psychic process not a biological/medical function. Without a Giver, we're told, the community would start to experience memories and color. That wouldn't be the case if the reason most people can't perceive color is material like surgery or something in the food supply.

That means the whole thing is a kind of fantasy as much as science fiction. There's a long-running debate about the inclusion of things like telepathy in sci-fi and whether that's something that kicks the product over into fantasy. Imagine, for instance, if The Martian by Andy Weir suddenly had psychic powers in it. Mark Watney is too low for pickup from the MAV by the crew of the Hermes and suddenly we hear, "Use the Force, Commander Lewis" in voiceover.... Or if Roy Batty begins a "mind meld" with Deckard at the end of Bladerunner and takes his pon farr off to the Tyrell Corporation where he can rejoin all his replicant brothers and sisters in the collective ancestral mind pool. That's a very different piece of work all of a sudden. Such things grate on certain folks' sensibilities as much as would the velociraptors and T. Rex busting out into a Bollywood movie-style dance/musical number in the middle of Jurassic Park. Might as well be in Narnia casting D&D spells at the flying kung-fu monks, the argument goes.

I usually call that kind of thing "soft science fiction" when it is the sole "magical" element of a story, but the remainder of the story is rooted in real world science, or "soft sci-fi" where there's a lot of them, but they still abide by an internal consistency.

I'm not usually particularly bothered by such elements in a work of fiction, but maybe because it's a re-read, they did stand out more than they did the first time around. As I considered the implications of the world building, the implications of the psychic nature of the story became more glaring and problematic. The Giver being a kind of well-meaning innocent, respected but not empowered, in a world where babies are euthanized for an accident of birth started to ring hollow. It's hard to see how he could be the linchpin of that social structure and not be, effectively, a wizard-king/dictator. Assuming he's not already constantly influencing their every action, if he were not obeyed he has a very powerful weapon that he could use at his whim. "Oh, you don't want to build me a bigger house, Administrator? OK... BLAM! There's some PTSD trauma for ya'! Now get the dancing girls here by 6PM...." And if they overthrow the guy, even contemplate it (he has access to Big Brother cameras everywhere) the result will be the dissolution of society.


message 6: by Amber (last edited Sep 24, 2018 10:23AM) (new)

Amber Martingale | 659 comments About the suppression of genetic memories: that's what the drugs everyone but the Giver/Receiver take are for...to suppress memories of things such as war, home, music and color. In other words, the very things that make us human... .

That's one reason why it's a dystopian book...just like Orwell's 1984 and Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 were.

I wouldn't have minded seeing "the velociraptors and T. Rex busting out into a Bollywood movie-style dance/musical number in the middle of Jurassic Park", though, Gary. That would have been funny as Hell.


message 7: by Gary (last edited Sep 24, 2018 01:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments Amber wrote: "About the suppression of genetic memories: that's what the drugs everyone but the Giver/Reviever take are for...to suppress memories of things such as war, home, music and color. In other words the very things that make us human... ."

The drugs could be a factor, but the Giver himself does describe the whole situation in terms that I can only associate with spiritual/mystic/shamanistic types of powers. The memories of things like war and love will literally pass back into the community were it not for the role of the Giver as someone who is the vessel for them, and both he and Jonas transfer memories to others (the Giver to Jonas and Jonas to infant Gabriel) in a way that is psychic. They do a little lay on hands, call up the memory and then transfer it to the receiver. Once transferred it is, for the most part, gone from the giver.

We do know that they take drugs to suppress their sexuality. She goes into that in a lot of detail. In fact... now I think on it, she goes into it in a way that I'm not sure makes sense entirely. That is, Jonas' parents recognize his early "stirrings" from a dream he had, and put him on the pill that some of his other friends are already taking. But being able to recognize budding sexual desire from someone recounting a dream indicates that his parents have a pretty good familiarity with sexuality, which I'm thinking doesn't quite jibe with the fact that they would have themselves been taking drugs to suppress their own sexuality since they entered puberty. His parents are among the intellectual elite of the community, and comparatively "worldly" but they're on the lookout for hints of sexuality in the unconscious that doesn't seem to quite fit with the world building. They recognize sexual feelings in his account of a dream that—if one had spent a decade or two on chemical castration drugs and lived in an asexual society—could just as easily seen as dream in which the brain is processing the day's events, but they see it for what is, and its implications, immediately.

There's a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, "Welcome to the Monkey House" which has a similar theme when it comes to sexuality. The population takes a drug that numbs their genitals in order to kill off their sexual desire. Kurt, sorry to say, handles it in a way that doesn't play terribly well in the 21st century Peoria. He pulls a Heinlein, populating his narrative with straw men (or straw women, rather...) to justify characterizing sexual assault as something other than sexual assault. He wrote it for Playboy back in the 60s and it's very much a product of that time, as well as a "one-handed typing" mindset, shall we say. And, yeah, there's a deconstruction of the story that's possible in order to portray it as a misguided attempt to subvert an overweening, Orwellian patriarchy with interpersonal patriarchy to deprogram those living in a constant state of mass, cultural Stockholm syndrome. But it's quite a brutal story, and doesn't track well these days, especially when paired up with Vonnegut's sometimes flippant and satirical voice.

My point being, that's a messy can of worms no matter how one opens the can. She didn't flesh it out entirely in this installment (I haven't read the later books) but the implications are quite broad and the details problematic. It can go off the rails fast. The suppression of sexuality has all kinds of weird social implications, and I don't know that those things were addressed in the book. Is a human society even recognizable as human without some sort of sexuality in it, or does it look more like an ant colony? Maybe that's what she was going for with some of the more cold, clinical murderous content. "Nurturers" kill infants with no more compunction than taking out the trash in The Giver, and even less genetic/reproductive basis than in the animal kingdom in which various species kill the offspring of sexual rivals in order to jumpstart their own reproductive opportunities. In The Giver there is a eugenic aspect, but they also do it because identical twins would make people uncomfortable somehow and that's disturbance could affect the social order. That's a pretty thin excuse.

Speaking of which, I'm not sure the math on the "three babies per breeder" adds up. If the children in the community come from designated mothers who have three and then become workers then that means a minimum of two thirds of the females would have to be breeders in order to maintain the population. In fact, it would probably have to be more like three quarters or more since children do occasionally go into the river, and are sometimes euthanized for eugenic reasons. The technology of the novel doesn't appear to be so advanced that they've perfected the whole insemination, pregnancy, birth process. Three quarters is probably a bare minimum.

In the novel those mothers are then shunted off into low-level work after doing their womb-enly duty. There's no having babies and then becoming a dentist later. Their paths are set at pubescence. So, Jonas' mother, who expresses more than a little judgement for breeders, would be one in three (or probably four) of women designated for more intellectual work. The leadership, administration, etc. would come from a pool that was made up of probably 4:1 males to females. That seems like something that would register more strongly in the culture of the community, even in one as asexual as that she describes. Jonas recognizes physical differences like eye color even when he can only see that color in shades of grey, and the social consequences of physical differences get right down to infant weight. The characters do recognize male and female, but given the asexuality of the culture (which still seems to have a very 1950s concept of the nuclear family) it seems to me that sexual dimorphism would register more strongly than it does in her narrative.

All of that aside, one of the ideas of the community is that the designated roles of society are based on a careful and thorough examination of each child, and given the big reveal at 12. So, that means according to the narrative that two thirds (or three quarters) of females are, after being studied their entire childhoods and reviewed by a council of administrators, meant to be breeders then manual laborers. I guess that's why they call it "going into labor" huh?


message 8: by Amber (last edited Sep 24, 2018 10:42AM) (new)

Amber Martingale | 659 comments You can't truly suppress sexuality, not through meds or vows of celibacy. The on-going (and possibly never ending) pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church shows that. And sexuality, too, is also part of what makes us human.

Everything you said after your remark about opening up a "messy can of worms" is EXACTLY why I don't read dystopian literature.

As for reading the sequels, I don't think you're going to like them. The community in Finding Blue is just as f*cked up as the one in The Giver, though in a different way. I found that out when I flipped trough it.

And let's NOT get into movie version since they made Jonas a 16 year old instead of the 12 year old he was.


message 9: by Gary (last edited Sep 25, 2018 04:56AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary | 1472 comments I haven't seen the film adaptation, but I've read reviews and they're not good. I think it could be done well, but there are a lot of issues with an adaptation, not the least of which is the age of the characters. There absolutely are child actors that can pull off something meant for more than a child audience, but they are exceptions. Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, Jodelle Ferland in Tideland, Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit, River Phoenix in Stand By Me, etc. But for every one of those there are ten bad interpretations of Annie or Harry Potter wannabes so that watching some of those movies is like sitting through someone showing you pictures of their grandkids to which you have to smile and nod appreciatively through the stupefying boredom. Worse are a 42-year-old (or so) Romeo and his 32-year-old Juliet (or so) in the 1936 Romeo and Juliet or Matt Damon and Penélope Cruz (at 30 and 26, give or take filming/production) playing a 16-year-old and 17-year-old, respectively. It's pretty unlikely that that kind of thing is going to work out. It's possible, but most likely... ugh.

Casting a 16-year-old playing a 16-year-old seems like a bad decision for this one. On the other hand, there are several aspects of the book that I don't think would play very well on screen. The giving itself, for instance. In the book, Jonas lays down while the giver puts his hand on his back to transfer the memories. Reading that is one thing, but on film you're going to be looking at a 12-year-old laying face down on a bed while an old guy hovers over him with his hand on his shirtless back. Aside from the fact that Jonas doesn't seem to need baby Gabe to lay down and take off his shirt to transfer memories later in the book, what's the point in that physical description? Memories get transferred through the spine or something? Even if there is some sort of justification for the physical setup (none is offered in the book) it's hard to see how that's not going to look pervy/molest-y on the big screen. Those characters might be taking pills to suppress their sexuality and live in a largely asexual society, but the audience does not and I'm hard pressed to think of a way that could be depicted visually that doesn't track as creepy.

Also, Jonas' "volunteer" work is with the elderly, so there's a scene in which he bathes an old lady while they joke back and forth. Again, I don't think there's anything particularly untoward meant in that scene (though it is telling that Jonas' budding sexuality does manifest as a dream in which he want to bathe Fiona...) but if you're looking at that on video it plays very differently in a brain un-drugged and not indoctrinated to asexuality. (Or maybe one indoctrinated to hyper-sexuality given the world we live in, I guess.)

So those things would have to change or be cut in a film or they're going to take it in a very particular direction. I think of The Giver as a kind of suburban, young-adult version of 1984. It's Orwell-lite for kids, we might say. But it works that way because of how we perceive it in text. Certain things don't play as well in video. A "5-year-old" Claudia, who is really 60-something, kissing Louis in Interview with a Vampire in text is one thing. It's a very different thing even when they cast a 12-year-old actor to play the part in the film.


message 10: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale | 659 comments Yeah, the Claudia/Louis thing was creepy in the book but even creepier in the movie.

That said, I still hate the whole dystopian genre...including Orwell.


message 11: by Yoly (last edited Sep 30, 2018 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Yoly (macaruchi) | 795 comments I didn't read the book again. I didn't really enjoy it that much the first time and didn't want to endure it again :P
I mean, I didn't hate it, but I really wasn't looking forward to a re-read. So instead, I watched the movie, which I had been meaning to watch for a while but wasn't in a hurry to do so.

I think the movie was ok. I don't know why it tanked in the box office. It had a great cast: Merryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Jeff Bridges, and the story didn't feel like a re-hash of every other dystopian future movie at the time. While it wasn't 100% the same story as the book I thought it was a fair adaptation (from what I can remember about the novel, anyway). The kids were older in the movie, probably to appeal more to older teenagers, but I think the change didn't hurt the plot that much. I think the main problem was that it was yet-another-dystopian-young-adult-movie and people were tired of the genre.

I agree that The Giver feels like the kid version of 1984. Now, I have a question. After this wave of dystopian future young adult novels came and went (and I think it hasn't entirely gone away, but at least the movies calmed down a bit), did the kids learn anything? I know that both 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale changed the way I see the world. I wonder if these books/movies taught kids anything at all.


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