Grade Level: 5th
The Giver is about a boy named Jonas, who lives in a community that seems perfect because they have no war, poverty, or pain, The community lives by sameness in which, every person sees no color, does not know what love is, and does not know simple concepts like snow and a hill. The people of the community have no knowledge of the past before the sameness and only follow the structured way of life the committee of elders decides for them. The elders choose who your spouse is, what children you will raise, and what career you will permanently have. Each person is assigned their job at age 12 and Jonas gets chosen to be the new Giver. He is to receive all the memories before sameness which are, very painful to the current Giver. However, once Jonas starts to receive the memories, he discovers that the community has no choices or control over their lives. He forms a plan with the Giver to run away with a newborn planned to be killed and to release all the memories back into the community.
- Having the power to make your own choices
- No individuality equals no life
- Having no memories of your past means you are not equipped to make decisions for the present and future
Lois Lowry has created a text that shows the dangers of not having knowledge of both good and bad memories. Jonas’ parents and everyone else in the community do not know what love is and do not get emotional attached to one another. All of the parents in the community are easily able to say good-bye to their children forever,once given their assignment. They do not understand the concept of family, and the generations of past knowledge that make-up a person. Lois has shown that a person is not living as a human being when they lack the concepts of love and pain because they form the meaning of life.
Possible Student Reaction:
A teen reading this book will get a greater understanding on what it means to make our own choices. They will see possible consequences of having the power of choice not in their hands and understand that decisions regarding their life only belong to them.
School Library Journal Interview-http://www.slj.com/2007/06/authors-illustrators/interview-with-lois-lowry-margaret-a-edwards-award-winner/#_
What led you to write The Giver?
In 1992, my mother and my father, both in their late 80s, were residents of the same nursing home in Staunton, VA. My mother was blind and very frail but her mind was completely intact. My father was healthier, physically, but his memory was going. I would frequently fly down from Boston to see them. On one particular visit, my mother wanted to tell me the stories about her life. I sat and listened to her talk about her childhood, her college years, and her marriage to my dad. In the course of retelling those anecdotes, she related the details about the death of her first child, my sister Helen, clearly her saddest memory. But she wanted to retell it.
How did your father react to those visits?
My brother and I had prepared a photograph album filled with images to spark his memory. In 1956, he had had a green Chrysler that he loved. When he saw a picture of it, his eyes would always light up. That day, he came upon a picture of two little girls, and he said, “There you are with your sister. I can’t remember her name.” I told him her name was Helen. He looked a little puzzled, a little confused, and asked, “What ever happened to her?” I had to tell him that she had died; for him it was as if her death had just occurred. I turned the pages to show a house we had lived in, a dog that we had had. But within five minutes, there was another picture of the two daughters. He lit up again and said, “Oh, there you are with Helen. I can’t remember what happened to her.”
How did you incorporate those experiences into The Giver?
Driving back to the airport that day, I began to think about memory—how we use it, how painful it can be, yet how necessary. What if we could manipulate it? What if I could leave my mother with all those happy memories of puppies and picnics and take away the sad memory of the day her daughter died?
I began to play with the idea of people who had learned to manipulate memory. I realized such a story would have to be set in the future. I began creating a community quite different from the ones we now have. I never thought of the book as a science-fiction novel or that I might need to explain its technology. I still get letters from readers, usually boys, asking for specific details of how the weather was controlled or color removed from objects. But I didn’t feel a need to put technology in the book. Nor would I have known how to figure it out!
Did you always know that the society you were creating was going to be a dystopia?
In creating that community, I had to figure out what their world would consist of and what they had been able to control. They were without war, poverty, crime, alcoholism, divorce—and without the troubling memories of those things. Only gradually did I begin to understand that I was not creating a utopia—but a dystopia. I slowly understood that I was writing about a group of people who had at some point in the past made collective choices and terrible sacrifices in order to achieve a level of comfort and security.
Did you ever imagine The Giver would become a classroom favorite?
What I did not know then—and what I have over the years come to realize and been surprised by—is the number of political questions that their society raises. That’s why teachers love using the book. They can find many books with as compelling a plot as The Giver. But they can’t find many books that provoke adolescents—who are tough nuts, anyway—to see issues that confront their world and to be passionately interested in them. The inclusion of this discussion material, however, was not purposeful on my part.
What about the theological symbolism that some find in the book—those Old Testament names Jonas and Gabriel?
I wasn’t conscious of adding any theological symbolism. If I had begun to think in literally Christian terms, I would have backed off of the project because I have no interest in writing “religious” books. Still, clearly, the theology is there, inherent in the story. Many Christian churches have taken The Giver up as part of their religion curriculum, and many Jewish people give it as a bar mitzvah gift.
At the same time, some fundamentalist leaders want it removed from everyone’s hands. I am still, I must be honest, mystified by the challenges from the very conservative churches. I think, on one level, the book can be read supporting conservative ideals—it challenges the tendencies in any society to allow an invasive government to legislate lives.
Can you talk a little about your writing process? You have an amazing ability to create descriptions that seem specific and yet are general enough to give readers a chance to create their own images.
I tend to be very visual; I see things as I am writing. I select the details that I am seeing to help the reader envision the same scene. I got a letter many years ago from a child in Denver who said she wanted to be a writer. She had read A Summer to Die (Houghton, 1977). She talked about the meadow scene in the book, and said, “I could just see that meadow. How did you make it possible for me to see that meadow?” I wrote back and said I can’t describe everything, so I have to choose details that will create a scene in a reader’s mind. The meadow that she was seeing would not be the one I am seeing, but I had put enough details for her to envision her own meadow. Later I got another letter from her, with a folded page of the Denver Post. Her picture covered half the page, and the caption read, “Blind child wins writing award.”
How many drafts did The Giver go through?
I always rewrite as I write, so there was never any moment in the writing of a first draft that I went back and redid the whole thing. I intentionally left the ending ambiguous. I then presented Walter Lorraine, my editor, with what I considered a finished version of the book. (I always know, of course, that he will react to a manuscript and then I will rewrite.) Because the book was so different from anything else I had written, Walter had two other editors prepare full editorial notes on the manuscript, something that only happened on this one [book].
What changes did you make?
In the original manuscript, the boy sees color for the first time in a red ball. One of the editors raised the question as to why this community would be manufacturing items with color when they have no color. I changed the object to an apple, and then when Jonas sees color, it occurs in a natural object. In the end, I left most of the manuscript as it was, including the ambiguous conclusion.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I always wish I had expanded that final section after Jonas leaves the community. It was supposed to encompass a great deal of time and distance, and it feels too fast-paced for me, finished too quickly. But the book was approaching 200 pages. At some point, I had been told that if a book went over that length, the price of the book had to go up, and in retrospect, I think I was overly concerned about that. However, if I had made it an extended journey with only two people in it, there might not have been enough happening to hold the reader’s interest.
I liked the ambiguity of the ending, but I always felt that there was optimism to it. It never occurred to me that people would believe that Jonas had died.