By Taylor Blasko
Lois Lowry’s young adult novel The Giver is one worth taking a look at again. Apparently, for people of my generation this was a common book that was both assigned in school or read for entertainment alike when we were all in middle school. I am actually one of the few that didn’t read it when I was younger. My first encounter with this book was with my Young Adult Literature class this semester. But I really wish I would have read it sooner. All of my friends that loved to read would always tell me it was a book I would like, I just never got around to taking their advice and cracking it open. But I’m glad this class in my last semester of undgrad forced me to read it.
For those who haven’t read it, it’s a dystopian novel where the main character, Jonas, is chosen to be the Receiver of Memory. It’s basically a very regimented society where when the kids turn 12 years of age the government decides what their occupations will be. This is obviously a problem in and of itself, but The Giver engages in so much more.
The main thing that I came away from the novel with was the question of is pain necessary? My biggest struggle with this question is that I know on a fundamental level that nobody wants to experience pain and to assert that someone else’s suffering is necessary is a very inhumane statement. If you have a friend that was abused as a child the number one thing you don’t say is, “everything happens for a reason” or “pain is part of life” or “now that you experienced that pain you can be even more happy then the rest of us!” Like no, those things are not encouraging. At. All. And so I always fall back on my sentiment that pain “in the world” is necessary I think because we need to be able to recognize bad things in order to recognize the good we have. And not that we can’t recognize good when we can’t see the bad, we just appreciate it more. But like I said before, you can’t tell someone that is suffering that pain is just a natural part of life and that they should get over it. And so I see myself as saying there should be pain “in the world” but not pain “for me” specifically. Which is selfish, I know. And I don’t know what to do with that. Because a part of me is still really uncomfortable saying that nobody needs pain. Because as we see in The Giver, a life without pain is a life lived brainwashed.
So that’s what this book grapples with. In this book the Giver, whom is the one that gives all of the memories of the world to the Receiver, Jonas, says to him, “I have great honor…so will you. But you will find that is not the same as power.” In this set up, everyone in the world is set up to live ignorant, brainwashed lives —except the Giver and Receiver. This gives them honor but no power over the system. The problem with our society is that we feel sympathy and pity for those that have suffered, but as a society I think we struggle with empathy, which is really the level of understanding we should be striving for in order to keep everyone’s humanity.
The ending of the book grapples with some of these ideas and maybe, in my opinion attempts to turn them on their head. Overall, it’s a fantastic book and I would suggest reading it if you haven’t already.