The Giver (1993) follows a boy named Jonas through the thirteenth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plant that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight.
It’s a dystopian fiction, but it’s also not. Speculative fiction in the style of dystopias never seeks to actively lull its readers into a state of complacency and belonging. From the onset of 1984 or Brave New World, readers from the liberal and modern point-of-view are already alerted to the wrongness built into that universe. Not so with The Giver. While it has the basic elements of a dystopian novel —rigid social engineering, eugenics, environmental control, suppression of ideas and behavior, language as censorship— the foreboding element of “bad/wrong/oppression” isn’t entirely there —at least in the beginning.
It’s very subtle; every time I begin reading the novel through Jonas’ eyes, I see the Community as a benign alternate possibility for the future. Different, controlled, but not necessarily inhumane. In fact, the first time I read the book (probably for an assignment, or to copy my brother, who first owned a copy), I was so invested in Jonas’ story alone that I felt surprised by the increasing tones of societal criticism. I thought it was going to be your average coming-of-age novel.
But I continue to follow his story through all of its emotive peaks and lows. I listen to him pondering on life. I watch him change his own world (and mine).
I love it because it’s a book that welcomes its readers. I love it because it makes you feel so much. It makes you reevaluate your life, value things more. Cherish pain and love and life. I love it because it was the book that commanded me to read Orwell, Zamyatin, Huxley, Le Guin, and everything else followed.
These are some of the passages which struck me as odd, telling or reflective, but I don’t care to type in my reasons why.