By Lois Lowry
News of devastation and anguish is almost inevitable when reading the morning paper or watching the evening news. We hear stories of crimes so unimaginable we cannot even fathom how one could be capable of committing such an act. We watch as our symbols of freedom fall and wonder how we have gotten to this point. We see images of starving children and families and are saddened by the suffering and unfortunate circumstances that remind us we are not always equal in spite of what we may think or hope. We often wish for the war to be over, poverty to cease, and acts of hatred to subside. We hope for and dream of a place where hardships and pain do not exist. Some call this place of perfection Utopia.
In Lois Lowry’s, The Giver, we are brought to a place of such perfection—a Utopic community where even the slightest sufferings and annoyances such as sunburns and household chores are non-existent. We may think, “How wonderful! Is this not what we have always yearned for?” But, as we will learn, a world without cruel hardships is also a world without true happiness. It is a society without love, without choice, without diversity, and without color. Simply put—it is a society of Sameness.
Just as parents try to protect their children from ugliness in the world, the leaders in this community of sameness also try to protect their members from—quite frankly, everything. They hand-select birth mothers and designate rules and age groups for milestones. For example, bike riding is a privilege given when you are a nine and taking away stuffed animals occurs when you are an eight and are given more responsibilities within the community. In addition, they choose compatible people to be parents and to raise the children who were also specifically chosen for them. Elders live in, The House of the Old, and wait until it is there time to be released—which no one knows for sure what that means or where the people go—just that they are never to be seen again.
The protagonist in the story, Jonas, possesses intelligence, integrity, courage and the ability to acquire wisdom. It is for these reasons that Jonas was selected as the new Receiver of Memory—the highest honored job within the community of which he lives. At the Ceremony of Twelve, Chief Elder explains to the community that Jonas, “…will be faced, now, with pain of a magnitude that none of us here can comprehend because it is beyond our experience.” At the time, Jonas does not fully understand what this means. As readers, we do not fully understand either.
He begins to understand as the Giver transmits memories he has been holding on to for the community. Jonas learns about colors, sledding, the feeling of snow, and sunshine. He witnesses love, warmth, and family. He also learns about pain—a broken leg, warfare, and death. He starts to realize through the transmission of memories that the community that he lives in is not as perfect as it seems. He realizes all that he is missing and he wants to bring about change.
Jonas and the Giver both decide that something must be done and a plan must be made when Jonas witnesses his own father euthanizing a young infant because he is, “a shrimp.” It is at this moment that the Giver and Jonas devise a plan for Jonas to escape to Elsewhere. He will leave the memories he has been given behind and the Giver will help everyone cope with the memories that they now have.
The ending of the story can be interpreted in a number of ways. According to Lois Lowry in her Newbery Acceptance Speech, there is not a “right” ending to the story.
“Those of you who hoped that I would stand here tonight and reveal the “true” ending, the “right” interpretation of the ending, will be disappointed. There isn’t one. There’s a right one for each of us, and it depends on our own beliefs, our own hopes.”
I felt hope at the end of the story that Jonas and Gabe had made it to Elsewhere. I felt happiness that Jonas was able to experience the power of love for another human being, as he risked his life and saved another. I think the music that he heard off in the distance represented both his future and his past. Perhaps the Giver was giving the memory of music to the people in his community in order to help them through their pain—signaling to Jonas that things would be okay. Some interpret the ending to be that Jonas and Gabe died. I hadn’t thought of this at first, but can certainly understand and see both interpretations. How do you think it ended?
I also wonder about the eyes—Gabriel, Jonas, Rosemary, Catherine, and the Giver all had the same pale eyes when everyone else had dark eyes. What is it about the pale eyes that mark the ability and strength to be the Receiver of Memory?
It’s no wonder that Lois Lowry won the Newbery Medal for writing a piece of literature that causes all of us to think about humanity and the values and beliefs that we possess. Although parents deem some of the content inappropriate for children and often challenge the book, I believe the powerful message the book delivers overpowers the mention of the ugliness that is already within our world. Lowry writes in her dedication, “For all the children—To whom we entrust the future.” Lowry believes we need to trust the reader to interpret the meaning of the story as it was intended—to have the strength to rise above and make changes to do what is right—to determine which sacrifices are worth making in order to experience true happiness.