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"The Giver" by Lois Lowry
When I taught eighth grade Language Arts at an inner city middle school, one of the most interesting novels I taught was The Giver by Lois Lowry. Before The Hunger Games, before Twilight, came the first original dystopian novel written by Lois Lowry and that was The Giver published in 1993. It is the story of a society and community in the future that at first looks uptopian but by the end of the story the reader realizes it really is a dystopian society.
This society and community has eliminated pain, strife and stress from their lives and in its place has instituted "Sameness" which is a plan to remove emotional depth from their lives.
Who wouldn't want pain, strife and stress eliminated from their lives? But the main character of the book, Jonas, comes to discover that by eliminating these horrible feelings from their lives, there is quite a price to pay.
And Lowry asks our children to contemplate what our lives will be like in the future with drones, yes, Lowry has them in her novel, family units, assigned jobs for life, controlled climate, and seeing the world, literally, only in black and white. (Everyone but those with 'pale eyes' are color blind).
This novel asks children to take a fresh look at authority, rules, regulations and questioning that authority. It is a novel to help students to think critically about themselves and their communities and exactly what type of lives they want to live.
Because it is a novel to challenge students to think critically and to question authority, it has become one of the most challenged books to be removed from school libraries and middle school curriculum's according to the American Library Association.
It think it is a vital book to be taught to middle school children and I am proud to have taught it to my eighth graders. It is quite a popular book and has sold 5.3 million copies since 1993 and it won the 1993 Newbery Medal, the highest American children''s book award to win.
Lois Lowry 1935 -
Lois Lowry is the author of more than thirty children's books and an autobiography, Looking Back 1998. She is best-known for her Giver quartet, four books which include The Giver and three other books that are prequels and a sequel to The Giver:
- The Giver 1993
- Gathering Blue 2000
- Messenger 2004
- Son 2012
All four books are written for the middle school level and I have read the first three books. I have not yet read Son. All four of the books were written by Lowry to question authority and to question the type of life young people want in the future.
In all the books Lowry has written, she explores difficult and complex subject matters for children. She has tackled such subject matters as racism, terminal illness, life in the future, and the Holocaust.
Lowry's father was a career Army military dentist so Lowry grew up living all over the world and the United States. She married Donald Grey Lowry. a U.S. Navy officer, in 1956. They have four children together. Today, they are divorced and their oldest son, a fighter jet pilot, was killed in a jet crash in 1995.
The family moved to Portland, Maine when Lowry's husband left the army and Harvard Law School and settled there. At this time, Lowry attended the University of So. Maine and graduated with a BA in English literature. She then pursued graduate studies at the same university.
She began working professionally as a journalist for Redbook magazine writing her own articles and taking her own photographs for the magazine. She had taken some photography courses in her graduate studies. She eventually became a freelance writer and photographer in Portland, Maine.
She began her novel writing career in 1977 with the publication of her first novel, A Summer to
Die. She has been writing children's literature and high school level novels ever since 1977.
She has received the following awards for her novels:
- Newbery Medal 1989 for Number of Stars
- Newbery Medal 1993 for The Giver
- Margaret Edwards Award 2007 for her writing for teens
- Finalist in 2000 and 2004 for the international Hans Christian Andersen Award the highest recognition to creator's of children's books.
- Rhode Island Children's Book Award 2002 for Gooney Bird Greene.
Lois Lowry explains her novel
"The Giver" the novel
The novel is written around the main character, Jonas, a boy who has recently turned twelve years old, and his apprehension of the Ceremony of the Twelve in which all the children twelve years old will be receiving their adult jobs for life.
Jonas is apprehensive because he and the other children turning twelve had taken tests and been observed and evaluated for their strongest skills and they will find out at the ceremony their 'job.' Some will get the job of fish hatcher, agricultural grower, sanitation engineer, birthmothers and etc.
The community Jonas has grown up in is a peaceful and harmonious community but at the same time it is a rigidly controlled and structured society. All the people in the community have gone to "Sameness" and have given up their prior memories of pain and strife over the past generations and all those memories have been given to one person, The Giver.
People live in family units which are not biological families but families constructed by the Board of Elders. Husbands and wives are matched by 'the elders' according to their personalities that balance each other out.
Each family unit is permitted two children, but the parents do not conceive their own children. All children are born to 'birthmothers' and children are taken from the breeders and assigned to a couple This forms the 'perfect' family units not biological family units.
In turn, each family unit raises the children in a stable and harmonious family. After the children are given their adult job roles, the family is then dissolved and 'the parents' proceed to the housing facility for 'childless adults.'
Children eventually forget their 'parents' as they pass through adolescence and young adulthood.
How is the community able to achieve this? They do this by dispensing pills which suppress certain emotional, mostly sexual desires or what the community calls 'the Stirrings.'
If any person in the community breaks the rules three times or an 'inadequate' baby is born or an elderly person becomes 'well-aged' then that person is "released."
The community is under the understanding that these people are "released" to a different community when in fact they are euthanized. The released are injected with a fatal poison and then deposited down the garbage shoot into a dumpster.
Now, back to Jonas as he attends his Ceremony of the Twelve to learn his fate within this community. Jonas, much to his apprehensive delight, is chosen to be "the Receiver of the Memories." This is a special and honored role that he learns he has earned because of his intelligence, sensitivity and pale blue eyes, which are quite rare in this community. Jonas also experiences a rarity in that he sees the world in color, while the rest of the community people are color blind and only see the world in black and white.
Jonas is to 'receive' all the memories the community has given up from 'the Giver' and elderly grandfather figure who holds all the memories of the community's past before "Sameness" took effect.
The Board of Elders have deemed that one person must hold all the past memories in case they are ever needed to aid in a decision the elders must make. Jonas is to be taught and educated in his new role by 'the Giver', the previous 'receiver of the memories.'
In being educated in his new role, Jonas learns he and 'the Giver' are able to break some important rules of the community and their society. They are able to turn off the speaker that listens to the people's conversations in their homes. They are permitted to lie to the people in the community as the rest of the people are not permitted to lie.
Jonas, through his training, discovers the power of knowledge as he receives the memories from 'the Giver.' He receives pleasant memories such as playing in the snow. (The community has climate control and therefore, never has snow), building snow men, having snowball fights, and snow sledding.
He also receives physical and emotional pain when he experiences war, death, and PTSD, but at the same time he receives love, happiness and joy from other experiences.
Jonas learns the people of his community are only happy because they don't know anything different or better. However, the knowledge of what the community is missing could cause chaos in the community.
Now, Jonas faces a dilemma. Should he stay with the community and the safe, consistent and shallow life or should he run away in pursuit of a life full of color, love, choices and knowledge?
I taught this book at an inner city middle school, and while I believe students should be taught 'the classics' I also believe they need to read contemporary literature that they are interested in. This is one book that engages middle school students to read and to discuss these questions the novel produces.
Lowry was inspired to write this novel after visiting her aging father who had lost his long term memory. She realized through her father that without memory there is no pain, physical or emotional, to experience.
She realized one cannot be bothered by regret or grief if one cannot remember the events that cause it.
Through Jonas in this novel, students begin to understand just as Jonas does their unique abilities, dreams and desires. This novel can also be read as an allegory for the maturation process as adolescents grow up and away from their parents and become their own individuals.
"The Giver" the film 2014
It has taken eighteen years but the novel, The Giver, is finally being adapted to film which is projected to be released in August 15, 2014. Actor Jeff Bridges, who will play 'the Giver' has worked hard to get this novel to film and he has finally achieved it.
I cannot wait to see this film as I think Jeff Bridges will make a great 'Giver' in bringing this character to life. Australian actor, Benton Thwaites plays Jonas. Katie Holmes will play his mother and Alexander Skarsgard will play Jonas' father.
Meryl Streep will play the Chief Elder which I think is brilliant casting. Odeya Rush will play Fiona, Jonas' love interest in this story and Taylor Swift will play Rosemary, a small and supporting but important role in the story.
I don't want to discuss the plot of the story because the film is coming out eventually and I don't want to ruin it by giving away too much. There is much moral and physical conflict in this delightful and disturbing story and anyone interested in this story and film has time to read the book first. It will be interesting to see if there are many changes to the story from the novel to the film version.
I also recommend reading the prequels and sequel that Lowry has written. The two prequels are interesting and tell about life before the 'perfect community' that Jonas and his friends now live in. The prequels also take place in the future but depict a more primitive time for this community, but the reader learns how the community came to be what it is in Jonas' generation.
What would each one of us do without our memories?
Update, August 12, 2014: I viewed the film, The Giver, last night at a nearby movie theater. DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE! This is the first time in my life I have ever seen a movie that was as good as or better than the book. In adapting this book into film certain incidents in the book were changed, but the changes were to make the film more palatable to viewers.
The cast was superb! The three young people who played Jonas, Fiona, and Asher were spot on. I cannot think of better actors to play these three pivotal characters. They do play characters older than twelve which is their age in the novel.
What can I say about Meryl? I don't even have to say her last name and you know who I mean, because she is a legend in her own time. She plays the Chief Elder, the villain of the story, and she plays it with gusto. Her part was enlarged for the film and the situations she played in are not all in the novel, but these parts were certainly in keeping with the novel. She believes the opposite of the Giver and that when given choice, people will always make the wrong choice, so choices must be made for the people of the community by the Elders.
Taylor Swift's performance, as Rosemary, was so brief but so important to the story. She played it with great grace and she and the Giver playing the piano is such a precious scene in the movie. The pain the Giver feels is written all over his face, because Rosemary was the previous Receiver of the Memories and the true daughter of the Giver, who took her life because taking the memories was too painful for her.
What is interesting in the movie is there is a hint that Rosemary might have been the the daughter of the Giver and the Chief Elder together.
Then there is Jeff Bridges who worked hard for eighteen years to get this dystopian novel to film. He IS the Giver. Jeff Bridges disappears into this role and becomes the Giver. The pain and happiness he holds as the Receiver of the Memories is palpable to each one in the audience. He becomes the Giver as he passes the community's memories on to Jonas. No one else could have played this role than Bridges and been convincing in it.
Katie Holmes and Alexander Skaarsgarde are perfect as Jonas' parents who are flummoxed and stunned when they find out Jonas is rebelling against the Elders and the community.
And who and where they cast the baby Gabe from is a wonder. The baby playing Gabe is unbelievable and a real trooper and so beautiful. This baby, Gabe, and Jonas bonded believably and the audience feels the deep connection.
One change from the novel to the movie is Jonas, who in the book has pale blue eyes, does not in the movie. Jonas' eyes are brown. In the book, it is hinted that Jonas and Gabe are true brothers and that those with pale blue eyes will always be chosen as the Receiver of the Memories, so that Gabe's destiny is already decided. I am surprised that the character of Jonas did not wear blue contacts so as to make his eyes blue. That is one of the few differences in the film not following the novel.
I was so engaged in the film that I couldn't believe when the two hours were over. I was so engrossed in the film, it seemed like the film had only started a half hour ago. Therefore, I highly recommend this film and students reading and studying this novel will love to see the film. YOU MUST SEE THIS FILM!
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© 2014 Suzette Walker