Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gathering Blue

Written by Lois Lowry

After reading Lois Lowry’s, The Giver, I was left with many unanswered questions.  I wondered what really happened to Jonas, Gabe, The Giver, and the society from which they all came.  I drew my own conclusions—but I wanted to know if my conclusions were as Lowry intended.  I soon realized that many years after being published, Lowry concluded the story of The Giver by writing a trilogy—which consisted of the books, Gathering Blue and The Messenger.

Gathering Blue is the second book in the trilogy.  I had very high expectations before delving into this book.  My very first expectation was that this book would start with the scene that ended The Giver and would continue from there.  Then, I read the back of the book.  The summary on the back introduced an orphaned-girl named Kira, who like Jonas, realizes that the world she lives in has many mysteries and secrets and it is her hope to find out what exists beyond it. 

Unlike the book, The Giver, which is about life in a Utopic society—a world without pain, suffering, racism, poverty, or hunger—Gathering Blue is about the opposite—a Dystopic society—a world with hunger, hatred, ignorance, discrimination, abuse, and neglect.  Although both are written within the same genre of science fiction, Lowry shows versatility by writing from these two different perspectives.  She developed the setting well and made us aware of what could happen if evil continues to fill the world.  Kira describes the sounds of the village: “…Everywhere she heard arguing.  The cadence of bickering was a constant sound in the village: the harsh remarks of men vying for power; the shrill bragging and taunting of women envious of one another and irritable with the tykes who whined and whimpered at their feet and were frequently kicked out of the way.” 

Lowry also introduces another “town” called the Fen.  Kira describes, “People from the Fen were oddly different.  Always identifiable by their strange speech and crude manners, they were looked down upon by most people.”  Kira is friends with a young tyke named Matt who is from the Fen.  In discussing the Fen with Kira, Matt explains, “In the Fen,” he added, “things is different.  Many gots no pa.  And them that gots them, they be scairt of them, ‘cause they hit something horrid…me mum hits too,” he added, with a sigh.”

Unlike Jonas in The Giver who is a highly valued member of the community, Kira is more of an outcast in the village.  Her leg was born twisted and she walks with a limp.  Normally, a deformity such as this would be reason to be put to death, but for some reason, Kira is spared—a reason that will continue to save her life.

In Jonas’s society, people were completely unaware of the past.  They had no memories and no negative feelings.  In Kira’s village, people did not seem to have their own memories of the world, but are reminded of what the world was like every year at a special gathering where they listen to the Singer of the village perform the Ruin Song.  This song lasts for hours and recaps all of the world’s events.  The Singer wears a special robe that is embroidered with memories.  The Singer’s role seems much like the Giver’s role in The Giver because the singer seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Kira had a special gift of weaving the future—the ultimate reason why she was saved in spite of her deformity.  Kira is given the job of mending the special robe and filling in the blanks.  As Kira reflects on her mending, she thinks,

“He pointed to a place that she recalled had been difficult for her; though tiny in size, as each embroidered scene was, it was a complicated portrayal of tall buildings in shades of gray, each of them toppling, against a background of fiery explosions.  Kira had matched oranges and reds of different shades and had found the various grays for the smoke and the buildings.  But the threading had been hard for her because she had no sense of what the buildings were.  She had never seen anything like them.”

What event in history do you think of when you read this description?

This description reminded me of a significant event in history—9/11.  I had thought that was what Lowry’s intention was until I read the copyright—2000.  In a speech given entitled, “Beginning of Sadness,” Lowry states, "It seemed, when I wrote it, a fantasy.  On September 11th, watching the towers crumble and collapse, fantasy receded and became real.  My own words seemed eerily prophetic and I winced at the thought of young people realizing that the streets and buildings and schools and playgrounds of their childhood can disappear in an instant of horror." 

By the time I reached the halfway point of the book, I wondered if there would ever be a connection to the characters in The Giver.  Did I miss something?  Lois Lowry, in her book of 215 pages, did not make any connection to The Giver until page 213.  Finally Matt mentions in a conversation with Kira, “I know you can’t be getting a hubby because of your horrid gimp,” he said in a low, apologetic voice.  “It’s all right,” she reassured him.  He tugged at her sleeve eagerly. “I been wanting to tell you that them other people—them broken ones?  They gets married.  And I seen a boy there, a two-syllable boy, not even broken, just about the same age as you.  I bet you could marry him,” Matt announced in a solemn whisper, “iffen you want to.”…”His eyes be a very amazing blue,” Matt said importantly, as if it might matter.”

In a world with no color, I remember concluding that Jonas must have had blue eyes because they were different than most and were described as being gray.  It was satisfying to know that I had correctly concluded this and although Matt does not mention the name of the young man, it is easy to conclude that it must be Jonas.

Just as with The Giver, I had questions at the end of Gathering Blue.  I was not at first planning to read The Messenger, but I realized on page 213, that there was no way that I could not find out how Lowry concluded everything.  Perhaps in The Messenger, the utopic society presented in, The Giver and the dystopic society presented in Gathering Blue, meet somewhere in the middle and become the society closer to the one that we live in today.

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