“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
Lois Lowry, The Giver (1933)
The Giver is set in a dystopian future, a world in which harmony and order rule. As children within the community grow up, their development is marked by a December ceremony. Moving from one year to the next, they are given new responsibilities: Eights are presented with a jacket with a pocket, Nines are given their first bikes and Twelves are given their assignment which will become their job and role within the community. These occupations are chosen by the committee based on each Twelve’s personality, abilities and volunteering. For Jonas, the Ceremony of Twelve is looming. He’s excited to find out his role in the carefully structured community but also nervous because unlike some of his other classmates he has no idea what he wants to be.
As the story develops, Lowry gives the reader hints that this perfect world isn’t all it seems. Family units are determined by the committee- children and spouses have to be applied for like a washing machine or a bank account, Newchildren are assigned names before they are given to their new parents. Older members of society are kept separate from the rest and are ‘released’ once they reach a certain age. It’s a world in which everything down to what you eat is chosen for you.
Jonas doesn’t realise the limitations of this way of living until he meets The Giver- the most respected member of the community, who has the burden of carrying its collective memory. He lives separately from the rest of the community but it is what he knows about the world, what he remembers, that truly isolates him. Jonas begins to experience this isolation when at the Ceremony of Twelve he is picked to become the new Receiver of Memory, and The Giver begins to transfer these memories to him. As Jonas receives more memories he begins to question whether the community and the committee have mistaken what is right from what is easy.
The Giver is a Young Adult book with a powerful message. Although the members of the community don’t feel pain or grief, never experience war or suffering, they also never experience true happiness or real love. Taking away a community’s choices might prevent them from making the wrong decisions but it also stops them from living. When you have nothing at stake you also have nothing of value to gain and the world becomes a colourless place.