Thursday, March 27, 2014

#18 [2014/CBR6] "The Giver" by Lois Lowry

The Giver (1993) by Lois Lowry is by all accounts an excellent book. It won the Newbery Medal in 1994, and there are many reviews and comments on Cannonball dedicated to singing its praises. Now, I thought this was a good book, but something kept me from really feeling involved with the characters and the story. At first, I thought I'd been reading too many young-adult novels and was getting burned out (which was probably true), but I think there's more to it.

The Giver follows the story of Jonas as he turns twelve years old in a world that has abolished pain and misery in exchange for shallow emotions, lack of knowledge, and lack of brilliance. This new world also has stifling rules that force equality and serenity. Jonas is chosen to be the next keeper of society's memories. As Jonas works with the previous keeper and learns more about his world and what he's missing, his perception changes. In the end, Jonas must decide whether to conform to the life he grew up in or reject it for hopefully something more.

The ability to avoid pain and misery seems wonderful at first. But what would you be willing to give up to avoid pain and misery: love, self determination, family, choice? It's an interesting question and encourages the reader to to think about the world in a different way. The theme reminded me a bit of the line from Six Feet Under when Peter Krause said something along the lines of: people die so we can appreciate life. Unfortunately in real life, in order to feel the good stuff, you have to feel the bad stuff, too.

I liked Jonas, I liked the story, and I liked some of the questions it brought to mind. The main problem I had was that I kept getting distracted by the details. I felt the questions brought up were mainly philosophical in nature and not particularly realistic. What freaked me out so much when I read The Handmaid's Tale is that I could almost see it happening in real life. Lowry's world, on the other hand, was more difficult to understand and contained many more unanswered questions. How did this world come about? Why was Jonas able to see color before his training? Why would memories stick with one person and travel the way they do? Wouldn't families start caring about each other after such close proximity, or were emotions bred out of them? ***SPOILER*** Why would that world not want twins? Isn't killing a healthy baby worse than having two people that look alike? It turns out that important people in Jonas's life are actually killers (his parents, his red-headed girlfriend--once she gets her job), why do they accept this without major issue? Again, have their emotions been bred out of them or is it fear of retaliation? Was it only knowledge that made Jonas different or something else? His eye color? Without understanding this and with the more mystical elements of magical memories transferred by touch and death, I never felt too attached.


Denesteak said...

hmm these are interesting questions you pose. Probably because I read it when I was quite young, I never questioned some of the things you questioned (most troubling to me now is what sets Jonas apart. How is it his eye color that sets him apart... if it's a society that does not see color??)

The thing that was most troubling about this world is that for about a quarter of the book, I did not really think their world was all that different. Sure, it seems a lot more polite and staid, but more or less, it seemed normal. But then you start picking up on details that are not kosher, like taking a daily pill to squash your ability to dream, or the weird sterile way all characters seem to speak to each other. It is only really jarring when Jonas meets the Giver, and the Giver is speaking in, well, the way we speak, that I realized how truly insidious that world is.

[Spoiler] When it comes to the killing of babies, I don't think that's probably the first thing the society decided to do when they decided to remove choice. I sort of see it as a "slippery slope" (I hate using this term when describing change, but there it is) -- like the killing of the babies is a symbol of how fucked up that society had become. They started out with good intentions, but now it's just gotten out of control. [end spoiler]

When it comes to accepting things without retaliation, I actually see it as extremely feasible, especially if it is a norm or society that has never seen aggression or retaliation. How can you know what rebellion is if you don't have the ideas to fuel it? I don't even think it is fear, because the people have nothing to fear for -- they are content... but that's because their expectations have been kept low and any aggression or "stirrings" is kept out of their subconscious (by the pill.) Sort of like in Brave New World...

Anyway, as you can see, I'm passionate about this book, and I'm really glad you read it even though you weren't as taken to it as most people. Thank you for your review!

Book Blogger said...

Thanks for the comment. The points you made about the babies and not knowing how to rebel make sense and definitely made me think some more.