Nate on Books: The Giver by Lois Lowry

He gives because he is sad

This week I started and then finished The Giver. It took about 2 days with life happening around it. The fact that I was assigned this in my 7th grade English class and then never finished it… dunno how I didn’t manage that. Probably because I didn’t have a podcast to motivate me.

So this is The Giver, a book about a utopian society. “The Community” is the ideal place. Everyone gets equal treatment, everyone is assigned a job that best suits them, and everyone lives the same lives. Nothing is ever bad. Bad people who fail to do what they’re supposed to do get released from the community which is described as a fate worse than death. Because after all, your needs are all satiated here in The Community. Your wants are also fulfilled because your only want is to raise your perfect 4-person family unit and do your assigned job. So uh… yeah that’s the end of the book. That’s all.

Until 12 year old Jonas starts seeing colors and shit. The apple magically changes and he can’t describe it. His friend’s hair looks different too, just for a moment. So when it’s time for him to receive his adult job, he doesn’t get any of those standard jobs. Doctor? Pass. Old-person caretaker? Nope. Birth mother? He doesn’t have the parts. Laborer? Thankfully no. Instead he gets the most important job of all: The Receiver. See, the memories of the before before before before times are all locked away in one person. That person knows what music, color, grandparents, and love are. They also know war, disease, hunger, and death. All this knowledge is safely contained in this one human-sized vessel. When that person is near the end of their life, they must give those memories to a Receiver. The old receiver becomes the new Giver. See? Oh and being released means you die. It’s not a fate worse than death, it’s just death.

As always you should check out the episode that this is a companion piece to, but yeah. Utopia made everyone the same. But in doing so they cut out maybe a bit too much. Nobody starves, but nobody truly loves one another. Jonas’s dad kills a baby because the baby is a twin and you can’t have twins. But he does it with a smile because he just doesn’t know any better. He’s an automaton doing the task he was assigned. The Giver and Jonas are the only two who are truly human – for good and for ill. Jonas immediately concludes that this sucks and The Giver agrees but hasn’t ever found a way to make things right until Jonas inadvertently stumbles upon the answer. In the end he and little Gabriel are sledding down a mountain into the Far Elsewhere. They hear music. Is he dying and this is a hallucination? Or is he truly going to a place beyond this broken world?

That was the question my English teacher asked me and I remember just listening to the other students and going “oh… yeah… uh I think he lived because uh… yadda yadda what those last few students said. I definitely read this book.” But now here’s my complete answer: it doesn’t matter. Whether they died or not, the destination wasn’t the important part. It was the journey. It was the choice. Earlier in the book Jonas says “it wouldn’t matter if I wore a brown tunic or a green tunic, but it’s the choice that matters.” That’s the same thing here. They made the choice to give the memories and colors and music back to The Community. How they ended up is not important. So that’s my final Douche Philosopher answer. Oh that and I looked it up, this is a quadrilogy and the 3rd book came out a few years after my 7th grade class and Jonas is alive in that book so… he lived. Final answer.

The Giver Rubric

As always I reserve the right to change my mind. Here’s a modified rubric. I’ll leave my original thoughts in Italics AND leave the original rubric up so you can see how wrong I was.


Editor Nate: Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaah not a level 5. Or a 4… or a 3… yeah. The plot points kind of aren’t developed at all. We don’t really know what Lois is trying to say. It’s not great.

I can say that this left an impact on me because I remembered the parts of it that I actually did read over 20 years ago. The idea of building a utopia by making everything the same isn’t a new idea but I think it was the first time I was exposed to it. This is also the book I thought of when we read Ogres last year. In Ogres there’s kind of a downer ending and there’s an elite class that profited from humanity’s transformation. In this book there’s a more hopeful but ambiguous ending and there doesn’t seem to be an elite class that profits. The elders have a higher place in the community, but they also follow rules in the same robotic way that everyone else does. None of them have memories of love or see color or anything of that nature. They’re equal and I think I kind of like it that way. The idea is that a higher ideal of equality and utopia was achieved and had horrible results.


So it’s nice that I read a book so quickly and there wasn’t a lot to go through. In fact I’ll give that points later. But I do think The Giver comes to the conclusion of how to right the wrongs really quickly. I dunno… on one hand I don’t think they needed to pad it out any. This is a very lean and trimmed book. On the other hand… damn we just blew through that in like no time flat. I think there could stand to be a little more meat on this bone.


Editor Nate: Dropping to a level 4 I don’t think it quite hits the high highs of a level 5

Solid language here. In fact that’s somewhat the point. Jonas said, in a flashback, he was “starving”. His parents lectured that no, he was hungry. There’s a difference. Language needs to be precise. It also conveys things later when he asks his parents if they love him. They tell him that… well that’s imprecise. We feel proud of your achievements, for example. They don’t say they don’t love him but it really does shed light on the fact that they CAN’T love. They don’t even really understand the full concept of it. Like if you rate a scale of affection from 0-10, they can maybe experience a 4 at best, and that’s “love” to them, but they don’t use that word. It’s a good way of conveying just how messed up everything is.


Editor Nate: I still like this and haven’t modified my thoughts about how much I enjoyed it. But thinking about it more does make the underlying premise fall apart.

Solid book. Really like it. I think it needs more meat on the bone though, like I said. I docked it some more points because of that and because I feel that there’s a lot of missed opportunities here. I dunno… I’d like to see some of the other planned communities and how they integrate into Jonas’s? How or why do we think there are other communities Elsewhere? Who made the decisions to make everyone equal and how? Eh.


Editor Nate: I would agree with Ben that there are books in the genre that did it better. I think this hits the sweet spot for people who just read this and move on as quickly as possible without thinking about it in any detail.

I would actually recommend this to a wide audience. I think it’s a quick enough read that most people could go through it pretty quickly. Again I criticized that elsewhere but a short read does make it easier to recommend. It’s easy, understandable, and a pretty well-written book. I’m actually considering making Ben read this for the podcast if he has the time.


Nate Creed

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