Archive for April, 2002

A meditation on The Giver

Monday, April 15th, 2002

Tell your friends about this blog entry
Tell friends about this blog entry

My daughter, now 15 yo, has loved The Giver for about 3 years now (and I do too).

I think the reason The Giver speaks to her is that it is about a child who is orders of magnitude different from others and sees things that others don’t. (I believe that at some level, this is true of ALL children. Each child is unique and has a unique way of seeing his or her surroundings.)

One of the points of The Giver is that it may be possible to lead an utterly eventless life in perfect harmony with everyone else in your community. However, in order to do so, you must make certain sacrifices.

At the heart of The Giver is the question of how much freedom/tolerance/diversity are people willing to give up so that life can “go on as usual”.

The reason that Lowry, the author, gradually exposes us to the unpleasantnesses of that society (children progress all at the same time through an obviously rigid curriculum, people don’t get to choose their own future careers, children with differences are not permitted to survive, emotions are damped down by drugs) is to point out that the great wonders of the society she describes (no hunger, no cold, everyone belongs and has a place and serves society and is included in group activities) are balanced out by disadvantages. (In the context of our current geopolitical situation, I think all thoughtful children and adults ought to be thinking about these kinds of issues. How MUCH information should the press suppress because it would reflect disunity in the United States about how this war should be pursued? Etc.)

In this, I think The Giver is a very different kind of book than Roald Dahl’s, in which the child protagonist is abused so badly for 89% of the book that (Dahl apparently feels) readers root for the children when they throw off their oppression and wreak bloody revenge. In Dahl’s books there is NO advantage to the children who might choose to stay with the evil abusers. Dahl’s books do not pose moral dilemmas or challenge readers to think deeply about their values. Instead, Dahl writes revenge fantasies.

This is totally NOT the case in The Giver. Lowry works hard to explain how members of the society she describes do derive real benefits from their sacrifices. Of course, then Lowry does make it obvious (to us, anyway) why (she thinks) the benefits are not worth the cost.

For certain children, and despite graphic violence and challenging content, The Giver is a Must Read book.

I also have strong opinions about the worth of fairy tales, despite the fact that they are “politically incorrect”.

Here’s a less science-fiction-y, but just as intense, story about a child who learns of the existence of evil, and its workings, in the world.

Thanks for listening. Happy reading.