The Giver, by Lois Lowry, presents a similar premise to the film Equilibrium. It is a story about a futuristic world in which emotion has been eliminated and whose the society has embraced sameness. And although The Giver is primarily a story for young-adult readers, the world it presents is far more terrifying, at least psychologically, than that of Equilibrium. And that is the greatest strength of the story – it presents a reality that, at least in terms of its initial presentation, is quite plausible. The result is that there is a distinctively seductive quality to the world of The Giver that can draw you in, on a rational and logical level, and as a result, this establishes a very great threat to those who value emotion.
The story is about a young boy, named Jonas, who grows up in an idyllic, almost Pleasant Valley-esque community which is safe, serene and productive. But there also is no such thing as color, music, emotion or memory. The community has a series of rituals to reinforce the order of their society – rituals such as the daily Sharing of Feelings during evening mealtime, Moving Up ceremonies, and Release of The Old. Through her sketches of typical daily life, Lowry manages to present, as plausibly as possible, the temptation that such a community might have on people who had grown weary of strife and conflict. Unlike Equilibrium, you can see why some people might voluntarily join such a community. After Jonas is selected to become the Receiver of Memory, he begins to learn the true nature of his home, and the truth horrifies him.
Perhaps the most difficult element of the story to accept is the notion that all Memory is kept by a single person, one of the town Elders. He keeps the memories so that the townsfolk won’t have to be burdened by the pain of bad memories. But in keeping the memories, he is able to utilize them to gain enough wisdom to be able to counsel the other Elders in decisions of great importance. Alongside the exploration of emotion, the novel thus becomes an exploration of the nature of memory – to whom does it belong? Is it best to have bad memories along with the good? Or no memories at all?
The true horror of the society is revealed as Jonas learns about what it means to Release members from the community. As the novel begins, we learn that criminals are Released (after three strikes), the Old are Released (in a celebratory ceremony after a fully lived life), and some Newchildren are Released (if they do not mature appropriately enough). The novel does a pretty good job of keeping the secret of Release safe – up until its shocking reveal. And for those who have not yet read the book, but intend on doing so, it is important to take note of all the different presentations of Release that Lowry gives.
The surface level narrative is fairly straightforward – it needs to be in order to work as a Young Adult novel – but it is no less compelling for its simplicity. Rather, the simple plot of Jonas escaping his community allows the reader to fully engage and explore the circumstances of the community itself – as well as the implications raised by the existence of a society in which individuality, color, emotion, music and freedom are sacrificed for peace and prosperity.
Overall Grade: A-
And that’s the real value of this book. It really does allow the reader to explore some very deep philosophical and moral questions without burdening the reader with heavy-handed preaching, or cheap action thrills.