Book #77

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Twelve-year-old Jonas lives in a seemingly ideal world. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver does he begin to understand the dark secrets behind this fragile community.

Lowry presents her world to us as a utopia - no poverty, no crime, no unemployment; just a well-mannered society with all needs provided for. It seems fabulous initially, until we realise her inhabitants are living such a life of structure that they have no opportunities to make choices, or to make mistakes. Everything is selected for individuals, their jobs, their spouses, their children, and all are assigned as such. Nothing happens randomly, everything is ordered to happen just so. The utopia quickly morphs into a dystopia in the readers’ eyes.

In this society, when you turn twelve, job roles are assigned. Jonas is given the highly esteemed job of Receiver - one who holds all memories of the past. As far as the community is concerned, there is no past, and the Receiver is the only one permitted to know of it. He holds it in his keeping to prevent others from knowing of past events, as such memories can be painful.

The founding basis of this way of life seems to be the complete eradication of pain and suffering. It’s a noble pursuit, but to achieve an entire blackout of unpleasant emotions, we must also remove the pleasant ones. As a result, our characters only feel a small range of emotions, nothing worse than mild irritation, and nothing better than a warm feeling of satisfaction. No anger or hate, no love or compassion.

Of course, once Jonas is privy to the truths of his world, he must choose whether to continue with the status quo, knowing what he knows and being unable to share it, or to escape to the fabled Elsewhere to seek a life of feeling and colour.

I would have something to say about the characters lacking depth here, but that’s the point of the whole thing, really. They’ve never experienced anything to give them depth, nothing has shaped them, they are all copies of copies of copies, living similar lives, and plodding through blissfully unaware. When I realised I had no specific feelings for any character, I realised I was feeling exactly how they felt - indifferent. It was quite a blow.

What I would have liked is far more detail on this world. Its quirks and rules appealed to my dystopian hunger, and learning about how the world worked was wonderful. After Jonas is given his role assignment, however, the plot picks up insanely quickly, and the story is over in what feels like moments.

This is a haunting novel, which asks deep questions about the construction of society, how our morals are taught and maintained, and the reasons behind our perceived culture. It also made me wonder just what could be behind the curtain for us, but that’s not something healthy to contemplate for too long.