“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
I feel quite embarrassed that I read the pop lit dystopian books before this almost canonical work of the genre (it wasn’t required reading when I was in high school and in my Masters). I had long wondered what it was about, and because the film adaptation made its casting for the film this year, I grabbed a copy and read it and marveled at how The Giver is light years away from its predecessors in this category. Pop literature dystopia now tends to focus more on the physical/combative survival of its protagonists. After Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games comes Veronica Roth’s Divergent, both plots Darwinian and hero-centric in nature and both angled with a romantic story for teens. On the other hand, in The Giver, our twelve year-old protagonist named Jonas is initiated into a difficult responsibility for his community. As a “Receiver of Memory,” he is privileged (subjected) to experience a heightening of senses in this faux utopian society. The difficulty in the situation is that Jonas is the lone person not exempt from “Stirrings” or the human condition, and the overwhelming influx of emotions he experiences burns him out physically and emotionally like his Giver, an aged man required to carry the burden of a whole society. Unlike majority of the populace who are aided by hormonal/chemical pills to suppress any kind of emotion, Jonas and the Giver carry the weight of the so-called impurities in their world, a world trying to maintain a “sameness”. Those who defy the community’s rules are “released,” an innocent term with a dreadful truth. It’s a powerful and timeless text that will surely shake the reader out of numbness from the mindless routine of the world. Sounds like nothing of the mainstream dystopian idea, right?
This award-winning book’s reception from parents and educators are met with A LOT of caution. Discipline and order is challenged in the world of Jonah, while strict formative ways of a child’s upbringing is tradition in certain cultures in real life. I do think adults should not worry about exposing their children to dystopian literature as long as there’s ample guidance and discussions on how this text is relevant in understanding emotions, desires, memories, and being human in this complicated reality. We adults have fashioned ourselves based on what we were. More often than not, it is the most painful experiences that push us to our greatest metamorphosis. Jonah’s rite of passage was just that, and his choice to be what he wanted to be was just the right ending the author, Lois Lowry, left us with.
Read THIS before you read any new dystopian literature (along with Fahrenheit 451 of Ray Bradbury). We all need to be startled with extreme measures sometimes to not take for granted our existence.