Published in 1993, “The Giver” is a young adult dystopian novel. The story is told through the limited eyes of an eleven-year-old boy. Jonas has a special gift that allows him to have flashes of color in a world that has done away with it.
In Jonas’s Community, people have eliminated crime, war, disease and all strong emotions. They have controlled population growth, environmental development, and even the terrain. They also control the weather. With all these improvements they sacrificed love, passion, music, and color. There is no actual happiness, only contentment. Although there is kindness, it is not out of a place of goodness. The world is mediocre.
Marriage choices are controlled by the government, as well as births of children. Less educated and lower class women are used as incubators for three years, then they are sent to hard labor. The more educated and higher class of women don’t give birth. When they are given a husband, the couple is given two children, a boy and girl staggered in age.
The calm ‘Sameness’ of the Community is achieved by having a Receiver of Memories. Jonas goes into training with the old Receiver, who then becomes the Giver, as he gives the memories to Jonas. Soon, Jonas sees the world, as it really is. All the colors, and all the killing. He and the Giver plan to release the memories into the populace so they can find more compassion. But, the plan falls apart when Jonas is forced to leave early in order to save the baby, Gabriel.
“The Giver” is about an eleven-year-old boy who lives in a special community. When the story begins, he wonders if what he feels is fear. Then he decides it can’t be. Frightened is too strong a word. He remembers when the whole community was frightened because a pilot had flown over, last year. The man has turned away from the community or released, which is the worse thing that can happen to a person. Jonas’s community is very structured. Loud speakers throughout give out orders all day. Since his society value accurate language, Jonas decides he is apprehensive about what is going to happen in December, not frightened.
That night, after dinner, Jonas and his family observe their nightly ritual of discussing their feelings. His little sister, Lily admits that she felt anger toward a kid at school. A “group of Sevens” were visiting and they didn’t follow the rules. Jonas and Lily both laugh when he asked if they were acting like animals since neither of them knew what the word meant. They just knew it described someone “uneducated or clumsy, someone who didn’t fit in.” Her parents help her to understand that the boy probably felt out of place, which helps Lily to let go of her anger.
Then Jonas’s father, who is a Nurturer, speaks up about a baby that is not performing well. He thinks they may have to release it. The family talks about taking care of the baby for awhile. They can’t adopt it because every family is only allowed to have one boy and one girl. Married couples are matched by the community, too. Jonas reveals his feeling of apprehension about the upcoming ceremony Ceremony of Twelve when he will be assigned a career and begin life as an adult. Every December the children are moved to the next year, regardless of when they were born in the year. So, every first year move up to two years, and so forth.
Fifty children are born each year. New children spend their first year in the Nurturing Center. At the Ceremony of One the babies are assigned to a family unit and given a name along with the number they were assigned at birth. His father reveals that he had taken a peek at the baby’s name, in hopes that it would help him develop faster. Although some older children will break rules and teach their younger siblings how to ride a bike before their Ceremony of Nine when they are given a bike, Jonas is surprised his father would break even the smallest of rules. His parents tell Jonas not to be concerned with the career he will be assigned. The Elders keep an eye on the Elevens while they are in school and doing their required volunteer work, so they can determine what their strengths are. Jonas is concerned also for his friend,Asher. His parents inform him that he might lose touch with the friends he has now, and make new ones when he is training in his new career.
Soon Lily comes back into the room. She is looking for her Comfort Object. It is a stuffed elephant that is issued by the Community. The children know these are imaginary creatures and Jonas had had a bear. When their father brings the baby named Gabriel home to stay a few nights with them, Lily points out that Jonas and Gabriel have the same eye color. This is actually a rude comment to make since it is considered rude to point out differences in people. But, most people have dark eyes. Lily likes babies and says she would like to be a Birthmother when she is old enough. But her mother quells this idea by pointing out that Birth Mothers only serve for three years. Then they are given hard labor until they are old enough for the House of the Old. Besides, they are never allowed to see their babies.
Later, while Jonas is listening to the Speakers, he remembers one time when he broke a rule, and it was announced on the loud speaker. Jonas and his friend, Asher had been playing catch when he noticed the apple he was about to eat, had changed briefly. Although it appeared to be the same shape, size and nondescript color as before, it had been different for a few seconds. Asher never saw the change, but Jonas took the apple home so he could investigate, even though, “Snacks are to be eaten, not hoarded.” Jonas was ashamed and threw the apple away, apologizing to the Recreation Director the next day before school. Since he couldn’t put words to what happened with the apple, Jonas forgot about it.
The eight to elevens are required to volunteer as a helper in various places so they can discover what they like. One this day Jonas is sent to the House of the Old. Jonas notices Asher’s bike out front. Jonas is assigned the job of helping an old woman with her bath. Only the very young and the very old are allowed to be viewed with no clothes on. While he is attending her, the old woman talks about another man there that was released. They had a little party for him, where he was toasted and they did a narration on his life, after that he blissfully went through the door to be released. The old woman doesn’t know what is on the other side of the door, but she is looking forward to her time to find out. She thinks it must be wonderful, and can’t understand why children are not allowed to attend.
Every morning, everyone in Jonas’s family discusses their dreams from the night before. Usually, Jonas doesn’t have anything to report. But, this time, he tells about a dream he had the night before. He had been in the bathing room with his friend, Fiona and was trying to get her to take her clothes off. Jonas told his mother the dream gave him strange feelings. His mother told him that that was normal for a boy his age, it’s called Stirrings. She gave him a small pill to take every morning and pushed that he must never forget to take them. Since Jonas noticed that his parents took the pill every day, as well as a few of his older friends, he assumes this is another sign he is growing up.
It is finally time for the Ceremonies to begin. The New Children are taken from the Nurturers and given to their families. Gabriel will stay with Jonas’s family another year since he hasn’t developed enough for placement. He isn’t as big as other babies and doesn’t sleep through the night. Each member of Jonas’s family had to sign an agreement that they would not become attached to Gabriel, but so far he hasn’t been released. There is a Murmur – or – Replacement Ceremony. A family “lost” their four year old son, Caleb, when he fell in the river. They will be given a new Caleb. At the river the community had done a murmuring sound that went from loud to soft, then when the new Caleb was given at the ceremony, the community did a murmuring sound that went from soft to loud.
Other milestones are celebrated at the Ceremony. Sevens are given a jacket they can button themselves, Nines are given bikes, and girls can remove the ribbons from their hair. Tens will all get hair cuts. But, for the Elevens, like Jonas, their careers will be placed by the Elders. Although the Elevens are anxious they know they can choose Elsewhere and disappear if the career given to them doesn’t work for them and they don’t fit in. But, Jonas can’t imagine choosing Elsewhere, he is confident the Elders will give him the perfect career.
Jonas and the rest of the Elevens line up by number to be assigned their careers. His friend, Asher is given the job of Assistant Director of Recreation. All of the other children were happy with their assignments, but the Elder skipped Jonas’s number. Jonas became concerned as well as the audience. They were not used to disorder. After the assignments are finished, the Elder eases all their worries by telling them that Jonas has been given the job of the Receiver of Memory. The Community only has one at a time, and the old one, with a long beard, eyes like Jonas and sitting with the Elders, must train a successor. Ten years ago the successor they chose failed. When they noticed Jonas as a possible Receiver they began to closely watch his development. The Receiver of Memory must be intelligent, have integrity and courage. But, most of all, he must have the “Capacity to see Beyond.”
The audience accepts him as the new Receiver by chanting his name. This causes mixed feelings. Jonas is proud, but also afraid since they warned him training for his position would cause pain, something no one ever feels.
Later when he asks his parents, who are treating him with respect, what happened to the Receiver ten years ago, they tell him the girl is “Not to Be Spoken.” This means she suffered the lowest disgrace. When Jonas reads over the sheet of rules he was given, he discovers that the rules of rudeness don’t apply to him. He can ask any question of anyone and the must answer it. He can’t discuss his training or his dreams with anyone. He cannot take medication unless it is for the illness unrelated to training, and he can’t apply for Release. He is also allowed to lie. Since he will have very little time for recreation, Jonas wonders what will happen to his friendships. All of this worries him, especially the idea of the pain without relief of medication. But, he can’t imagine lying. He was taught from an early age to speak with precision and accuracy. He was not allowed to even embellish, use exaggeration or figures of speech. Then Jonas wondered how many people he knew that lied.
Jonas is led into the Receiver’s house for training. The first thing he notices is that the door is locked. No one locks their doors. Then he sees a beautiful room, the walls lined with leather bound books. In every other house in the Community, there are only three books, a dictionary, the Community Volume and a Book of Rules. The Receiver greets him as the New Receiver and explains what will happen. He must transmit all his knowledge to Jonas, and although he looks old, he isn’t. He hopes he has enough energy to finish Jonas’s training.
At first, Jonas thinks that he will just hear stories from an old man, but the Receiver tells him that he will transfer memories of the whole world, going back through generations of Receivers. He tells Jonas that the weight of the memories is like snow piling up on a sled. But, Jonas has never seen snow because of he controlled climate, he doesn’t even know what a hill is because all the ground is level for efficiency. So, the old Receiver touches Jonas on the back and transmits a memory of a ride on a sled in the snow.
Afterward the Receiver tells Jonas the memory is an old one from before “Sameness”. Then he gives Jonas the feeling of Sunshine. When Jonas asks him about the pain, the Receiver gives him the pain of a minor sunburn. As Jonas is leaving, he asks the old man what he should call him, and he replies, “Giver”.
The next day, as Jonas and Fiona are riding to their jobs, Jonas notices a change happening to Fiona’s hair. When he asks the Giver about it, he is told he is seeing the color red. The reason the sled always looked red in his memory, is because back then the world had more color. But, when the world acquired the improvements they enjoy, some things were sacrificed, including color. As Jonas’s training progresses, he sees more colors, but when he tries to share them, or his knowledge with anyone else, they can’t understand. When Jonas asks the Giver if he had a wife, he replies that he did, but she has gone to live with the Childless Adults, as everyone does when their children reach adulthood. He tells Jonas that having a family is hard for a Receiver because he can’t share his books or memories.
Ten years ago, when the other Receiver failed the memories escaped to the Community and caused everyone great pain until they could be retrieved. Jonas’s job will be to posses the memories and give advice to the Elders from time to time. Jonas notices that the Giver seems to be in pain, so the Giver decides to give some of the pain to Jonas so it will lessen for himself. The memory he gives Jonas is of a broken leg from the sled ride. The pain stays with him somewhat as he limps home. The Giver continues to transmit painful memories to Jonas but ends each session with a memory of pleasure. One day Jonas asks the Giver what his favorite memory is and he is given the memory of a family around a Christmas Tree. For the first time, Jonas sees what a grandparent is. In the Community, children have no contact with their parents after they leave home. They are not even told when their parents are Released.
Baby Gabriel is still having trouble sleeping through the night. So Jonas offers to take him in his room so he can try. Jonas accidentally transfers a good memory to the baby and he goes right to sleep. Jonas must use this method every night to get the baby to sleep. His father tells them about a woman who will be having twins in a few days. One of them will have to be Released. Jonas wonders what happens to them when they are Released. Is there someone waiting to take them when they reach Elsewhere? Jonas stops taking his Morning Pill.
Jonas begins to experience more emotions than those around him and begins to have trouble relating to his friends. He asks the Giver to tell him what happened with the other Receiver. Her name was Rosemary and he loved her as he loves Jonas. He tried to take it easy on her, at first. He started with joyful events, which she loved. But, instead of pain, he gave her sorrow, loss, poverty, etc. One day, she kissed him on the cheek and applied for Release. The Giver thinks about Release sometimes, but he can’t until Jonas has all the memories.After his father Released on of the twins, Jonas was curious about it. The Giver tells him that as a Receiver he can participate or view anything. The proceedings from the Release his father performed were recorded. Jonas watches his father weigh the babies, give the lightest one an injection that kills it, then throw it in the garbage chute, waving goodbye. The Giver says that he viewed Rosemary’s release, she was told to roll up her sleeve, then administered the injection herself.
After his father Released one of the twins, Jonas was curious about it. The Giver tells him that as a Receiver he can participate or view anything. The proceedings from the Release his father performed were recorded. Jonas watches his father weigh the babies, give the lightest one an injection that kills it, then throw it in the garbage chute, waving goodbye. The Giver says that he viewed Rosemary’s release, she was told to roll up her sleeve, then administered the injection herself.
Jonas is horrified and refuses to go home. He realizes his father has been lying to him and that his friend, Fiona is helping to kill old people where she works. The Giver tells Jonas he can spend the night with him, and after spending time with Jonas he agrees that the memories need to be shared with everyone. They have lost the ability to feel.
The Giver and Jonas devise a plan. On the night of the Ceremony, Jonas will leave the Community. When he is far enough away, all the memories will revert back to the Community. Jonas wants the Giver to go with him, but he says he must stay to help the people to handle the memories, besides he is too weak. The Giver says he will soon be with his daughter, Rosemary. Already he can’t see colors anymore. When Jonas asks him what he experienced first, as he himself saw colors first. The Giver tells him the first thing he experienced was music. Jonas doesn’t know what that is since the Giver kept those memories for himself.
The escape is planned for two weeks and he Giver is planning on giving Jonas memories of courage to help him. But, when Jonas goes home he discovers his father had taken Gabriel to the Nurturer Center last night and the baby couldn’t sleep. They all voted to Release him the next day. Jonas realizes he can’t wait two weeks. He grabs some food and his father’s bike since it has a baby seat. He and Gabriel leave. Soon they are tracked by planes, but Jonas uses memories of cold to lower their body temp and confuse the heat sensors on the planes. When they get far enough away the memories start to leave him. But, he has enough of his own to help transmit warmth to the baby.
Days pass. The road becomes treacherous and Jonas hurts his ankle. As they climb the hill the weather gets colder. But at the top of the hill, Jonas hears music and sees a house that was in the first memory the Giver gave him. He also finds the sled and rides it down the hill with Gabriel strapped to him.
Jonas – when the story begins Jonas is an eleven year old boy. On his twelfth birthday he becomes the new Receiver of Memory. He is very intelligent and intuitive. Because of his ability to ‘see beyond’ he was the perfect choice for Receiver. Although he already feels emotions deeper than any one else in his community, after he begins to receive memories from the Giver, his emotions become even deeper. He, alone, can feel love for his friends and family, they don’t love him back. Most of his love is given to Gabriel, the little baby that he rescues from extermination. Jonas shows remarkable courage when bucking the system and leaving his Community. He shows his strength of character when he wants to shield his Community from too much pain although they don’t care about him.
The Giver – he looks much older than he is physically because of all the memories he is forced to endure. His job was to hold on to the memories for the Community, so they won’t have to deal with emotion. The Receivers have been collecting these memories for generations, and now they are all his. The pain is almost always unbearable. His other job is to use all this acquired knowledge to advise the Council of Elders on the administration of the Community.
After spending time with Jonas, the Giver begins to see that by keeping these memories from the people, they have become heartless. He watches a man who should feel love for the children in his care, dispose of a newborn baby in a trash chute after giving it a lethal injection. The Giver realizes the people need their memories to feel compassion, he makes plans with Jonas to release the memories.
Jonas’s Father – the character is only referred to as Father, no other name is given in the book. He works as a Nurturer at the Nursery where newborn babies are kept until the are given to families at their first Ceremony. He is a kind, thoughtful father. He plays with his children and is very giving of his time and concern. Although he doesn’t say he loves them, he demonstrates it.
But, when killing a baby becomes necessary for his Communities laws, he takes care of it quickly and efficiently. This cold-blooded behavior goes against his personality throughout the book, which makes it even more shocking.
Jonas’s Mother – this character is also only referred to by her title in Jonas’s life. She is always Mother. She works for the Department of Justice and often helps Jonas understand the laws of their Community. She is a practical woman, who is warm and caring to her children. She spends time talking to them, put still professes not to love him when Jonas asks her if she does. She tells him that she is very proud of him, though.
The Chief Elder – although it would be easy to cast her as the villain of the piece, she is actually very caring of the children of the Community and has little anecdotes she delivers about them during the Ceremonies. She and the rest of the Elders follow the rules that have been laid out for them for generations. But, as an elected leader, she is also the one who enforces them.
Lois Lowry Biography
Born in 1937 in Honolulu, Hawaii, Lois Lowry was an Army brat. Her father was a dentist in the Army and moved her family from base to base throughout his career. After Hawaii, they moved to Brooklyn, New York. While her father served aboard a ship during World War II, her mother moved her and her brother and sister to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After the War, her father was stationed in Japan, where she attended the Tokyo American School at Meguro. The next base was Fort Jay, New York.
Lois finished high school in Brooklyn Heights. She went on to matriculate at Pembroke College at Brown University, for two years, until she married a Navy officer, and continued the gypsy existence. They lived in California, Connecticut, where their first daughter was born, then on to Florida, where their first son was born. After South Carolina, they settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where their next two children were born, a son and daughter. In all, they had four children, and after her husband retired from the military, he attended Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After law school the family settled in Portland, Maine. There Lois raised her children and found time to complete her English degree at the University of Southern Maine.
In college she took up photography and submitted some of her photos and writing to Redbook Magazine. From there her writing career took off. Her story for the magazine was intended for adults, but she wrote it from the perspective of a child. Later, she wrote, A Summer to Die, which was published when she was forty years old. That same year she and her husband divorced. With the rise of her career, the couple realized they had little in common any more.
Her books Number the Stars in 1990, and The Giver in 1994, both won Newbery Medals. In the years 2000 and 2016 she was a finalist for the Hans Christian Anderson Award, which is the highest recognition a writer of children’s books can receive. In 2002 her book, Gooney Bird Greene, won the Rhode Island Children’s Book Award. This is only a few of the awards Lois Lowry has won for her writing of young adult literature. She was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Brown University in 2014.
Sometimes controversial, her books cover such topics as racism, murder, and disease. She also covered the questions of going against authority in The Giver. When does a Utopian society become a Dystopian society? This book has met with more controversy than any of her other books. Some schools have made required reading and some have banned it.
As a grandmother now, Lois Lowry spends time at her home in Massachusetts and her other home in Maine. When she is not writing, she is reading, knitting, gardening and playing with her four grandchildren. Although she is seventy nine years old, Lois Lowry is still turning out young adult fiction. She tries to teach children to be aware that all life is intertwined and all life is dependent on the new generations doing more and caring more for our fellow human beings.