Family Units In The Giver

Published in 1991, ‘The Giver’ is a novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a relatively distant community, and told through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy; Jonas. To Jonas his community seems to be a utopia, complete and flawless, but, in truth, it is a dystopia. The people seem perfectly content to live in a tyranny where a Community of Elders impose the rules. In Jonas' community, there is no poverty, hunger, unemployment, lack of housing, or discrimination; everything is perfectly planned to eliminate any problems. However, as the novel continues and Jonas gains insight into what the people have willingly, gladly and unquestioningly given up — their freedoms and individualities — for the so-called common good of the community, it becomes more and more obvious to him that the community is a bad place in which to live. Jonas feels disbelief and horror when he realises that his community is a hypocrisy, a society based on false ideals of goodness. As Jonas comes to understand and value the importance of memory, freedom, individuality, love, and even colour, he feels can no longer stand by and watch the people in his community continue to live under such deception and restrictions.

The people in Jonas’ community have family units; each day in their dwelling the family members share their feeling with one another. However, the feelings they share are just surface feelings shared by mindless people whose actions, reactions and emotions are trained. They know nothing about the concept of ‘feel’. They have never faced true suffering or pain. For example, when Lily expressed anger over an incident that had happened in the park Jonas realised it was not true anger but more “… impatience and exasperation”. Also, after receiving the Giver’s favourite memory-one Jonas cherished himself- of a family celebrating Christmas, he asked his father, “Do you love me?” His father replied with a laugh, astonished Jonas had used such a meaningless word. He suggested it would be more “…appropriate to consider whether he ‘enjoys’ Jonas or takes pride in his accomplishments”.

In the beginning of the novel, Jonas seems to act like most of the other people in his community, obediently following the rules. When something unexpected happened, like when a plane flew over the community, he waited anxiously to be told what to do rather than acting off self-accord. “Jonas, looking around anxiously, had seen others-adults as well as children-stop what they were doing and wait, confused, for an explanation of the frightening event. “However, as he receives memories about the history of the community he learns about colour, diversity and war. From the red sleigh atop the hill to the war scene where he watches a boy die, Jonas takes on memories that change the way he sees his own world. He also takes on authentic feelings like joy, pain, grief, and love, feelings he had not known before. Jonas ends up with a longing to share the memories with the others, so that he can both deepen their understanding and wisdom but also so that they can live and enjoy life to the full.

It is during one of their first few encounters that the Giver informs Jonas about ‘sameness’. “So many things I could tell them; things I wish they would change. But they don’t want change. Life here is so…orderly, so predictable-so painless. It’s what they’ve chosen.” The Giver was man who believed in individuality and freedom of choice but lost hope because he knew there was no way he could change the current form of his community, but, Jonas’ arrival gave him newfound hope. Weather the community of Elders believed it wasn’t worth the trouble to give people a choice because they cannot make the right decision and would make a disaster out of it or vice-versa, it was a right that every individual on this planet deserved; freedom of choice. Together the Giver and Jonas decided to make life worth living for their community; a life of choice; and the only way to achieve this was for Jonas leave and by doing so return the memories of the community to them.; and he did so because of love, “…they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything”. 

29 April 2022
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