The Giver by Lois Lowry – Review
Two days before his Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas feels ‘apprehensive’. Fear, like love and pain, are feelings unknown to the dwellers of Jonas’ seemingly perfect community. Jonas’ apprehension therefore causes his parents to worry. Moreover, he starts experiencing what seems like hallucinations. At the day of the ceremony, the Elders decide the young boy will be the community’s next Receiver of Memory, which is one of the most important jobs in the community. The Giver, an old man with a noticeable white beard, is responsible for transferring memories to young Jonas, which he does through touch. Consequently, Jonas learns that there is more to life than what the community’s been led to believe.
In The Giver, Lois Lowry creates an intriguing utopian-dystopian world that keeps you reading. From the moment the inhabitants of this world are born, they are being observed and studied by the Elders, who rule the community and keep order by giving passive-aggressive instructions through giant loud speakers. The Ceremony of Twelve is the most important event in a young dweller’s life as they’re being assigned to their jobs. Sexuality (“stirrings”) is repressed with pills. The people in the community don’t get to pick their spouses; the perfect spouse – like the perfect job – is picked for them by the Elders. Each couple has to adopt two children, a boy and a girl. Since couples don’t have intercourse but merely exist to work and rear the next generation of people, these children are born by Birthmothers. The elderly, who have become useless to the community, are released. So are those dwellers that are disobedient or fail to do their jobs properly. It’s not a secret that “release” stands for execution or euthanasia. However, for a strange reason nobody in the community understands what release actually means. They don’t even understand what death means, which I find hard to believe.
The main issue I had with this novel was its inconsistency. There are a variety of sci-fi elements built into this story. For instance, Jonas’ world is technologically advanced enough to control climate and produce pills that suppress sexual feelings. However, Lowry then abruptly jumps to the fantastical by introducing magic into the story. Wanting the reader to suspend disbelief is tricky and Lowry fails at it. I’m usually rather fond of writers mixing different genres but it does not work well enough in The Giver. There are too many plot holes in this novel and they are downright annoying. Leaving certain plot points open-ended can be a useful tool to create suspense, but in The Giver it looks like Lowry didn’t care enough to develop a number of rather significant ideas. For example, Jonas’ gift is never truly explained. How come some dwellers have this gift and others don’t? The way memories work is not explained either. How come Jonas can experience physical and emotional pain through memories? Lowry establishes that colour exists within the community. Jonas’ friend Fiona has blazing red hair. However, the people in the community are not able to see or perceive colour. How does that work? Lowry suggests that they cannot perceive colours because they don’t know the words for colours. She uses the same explanation for other concepts, like love. Her representation of the way language works is a gross misrepresentation. George Orwell’s obsession with language in 1984 was clearly an inspiration for Lowry. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but Orwell’s language determinism is outdated. I won’t get into this too much now, but there are various indications that language mirrors society, instead of exerting control over it.
Unfortunately, I can only give this novel a rating of 2.5 out of 5*. The innumerable plot holes, the somewhat boring characterisation and a completely irrational ending made this a gruelling read for me. I have no doubt in my mind, however, that most young people will probably enjoy this novel. It’s decent enough to serve as a light introduction to the utopia-dystopia genre.