The Giver by Lois Lowry
Lowry, L. (1993). The Giver. New York: Houghton Books for Children.
Science Fiction, appropriate for ages 11+
The Giver is a story of a young boy named Jonas who lives in a community of “sameness”. Everything is chosen, from your job to your parents and life partners. At the age of 12 Jonas was chosen to become the new “Memory Keeper”. Even though generations of memories have been erased from the community, there is only one person who holds them all. Hiding the memories from the community is meant to protect them, but it also hides the most wonderful things about the world. When Jonas begins to receive the past memories he realizes that it would be best if everybody in the community could experience them as well, resulting in risking his life to save the future of his community.
In the beginning of the story, Jonas has complete trust in his parents. One of the community rules is to never lie, so he assumes his parents never do. Jonas then receives a memory of his father sending a newborn child to “Elsewhere” in which he sees his father actually killing the baby and disposing of its body. He immediately loses all trust and admiration for his father. After seeing this, Jonas knows he must leave the community in order to better it which symbolizes his bravery as he transitions into an adult.
The people in the community have all their decisions made for them and they never get to make their own decisions. I believe this book is written for the reader to understand that it is better to live a life that makes you happy and not to let anyone or anything hold you back from your true happiness. The ending of the book is interesting as it is open to interpretation. Whichever ending you would like to add to the story shows us that Jonas has made is own decisions to better his future and the future of the community despite being told he was not allowed to leave.
In The Giver, memories are a source of wisdom, but also of pain. We learn that the latter is the cost of the former. We learn from mistakes, and without the memory of those mistakes, we cannot actively make decisions about the future. The novel also argues that memories are meant to be shared; there is a value in the collective knowledge of a generation, and in the way that knowledge is passed on to others. Without the sharing of memories, the memories themselves are of no use.
There are examples of both physical and emotional suffering in The Giver. Both types are memories of a distant past since, in this futuristic world, neither exists any longer. The novel argues that suffering, while horrible and painful, is an integral part of the human experience. Without it, we can’t hope to learn from the past and make informed decisions to better the future.
- What is the value of memory in The Giver? Why does the community need it preserved?
- What are the consequences of giving only one person the responsibility of keeping all the memories?
- What kind of suffering is worse in The Giver—physical or emotional?
- Why does The Giver choose to give Rosemary only emotional or mental pain? Was that a good call?
Lesson Objective: After reading The Giver, students will be able to analyze our birthday rituals and compare them to the Ceremony that takes place in the Community.
Step 1: With your teacher and classmates, discuss the December Ceremony that takes place in Jonas’s Community.
Here are some questions to get you started:
- Why do they have a communal birthday celebration?
- What is the significance of the gifts that each child receives?
- How are they appropriate for each age?
In the Community, birthdays are stripped of the fun and nonsense, and are viewed purely as rites of passage. The poor kids even know in advance exactly what gift they’ll receive each year. You’ll discuss the gifts that each child receives, and analyze how they reflect the values of that society. In contrast, what do the birthday rituals of our society reflect about our values?
Step 2: In groups of four, you will work to plan a Birthday Ceremony for the students in your own school. This Ceremony will reflect the values that the group cherishes and wants to pass on. Some questions you would prepare answers to are:
- What kinds of gifts would be given for each grade?
- What expectations would the students be handed as they receive each gift?
- When will the ceremony take place?
- Describe the food, music, and clothes.
- What would happen upon “graduation”?
Step 3: Now present your ceremony ideas to the class! Discuss the similarities and differences between the ideas the various groups came up with.