“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
As I mentioned at the start of this month, the last time I read Lois Lowry’s The Giver was in the 8th grade. This is likely the case for many 20-something readers, as this young adult novel has been circulating among the hands of middle students since its publication in 1993. Unfortunately, due to countless moves since the 8th grade, I lost my original copy of the novel and so at the start of this month I trekked to Barnes & Noble to buy my second copy. It took me approximately two days to read it (it took my father about a day and a half, for comparison) but, should you have had the time, it is possible that you finished it in a few hours. The novel is light, a mere 225 pages. In a new introductory note to the novel, Lowry also comments on the size and seemingly simplistic structure of her work:
“As I carefully separated those two hundred or so pages, I glanced again at the words I had typed on them. I could see that I had written a complete book. I had all the elements of the seventeen or so books I had written before, the same things students of writing list on school quizzes: characters, plot, setting, tension, climax. (Though I didn’t reply as he had hoped to a student who emailed me some years later, with the request “Please list all the similes and metaphors in The Giver, I’m sure it contained those as well.) I had typed THE END after the intentionally ambiguous final paragraphs.”
Yet, despite its size and targeted age group, the novel has continuously impacted millions of men and women of all ages. The question one asks then is why? What is the appeal of The Giver? What has allowed this novel to retain its popularity for over two decades? Perhaps it is the novel’s discussion on what our future could look like. It seems that, regardless of the decade, we, as humans, struggle with looking at our society as it is now and then picturing what it could be. What if we found a way to eliminate war? To cure all diseases? To rid ourselves of things like heartbreak, loss, betrayal, and pain? There is no easy answer for this, nor is there a “right” one, for that matter. Countless novels and films have addressed this issue–from The Hunger Games to films like Equilibrium–and initially it appears that authors and directors maintain that once we eliminate emotions and the ability to choose, we obtain “utopia.” Take away what makes us human, and suddenly there is peace.
But there is a price to “peace;” a price for the elimination of the catalysts for horrors such as war and suffering. Yes, being human means that we often choose wrong–we choose the wrong outfit for an interview, we love the wrong people, we make the wrong decisions–but there is an alternate side to what makes us human: compassion, love, joy, empathy and support are just some aspects of the other side of the human coin. To some, eliminating choice seems to directly correlate to eliminating the bad parts of humanity. But, as Lowry shows us with Gabriel in particular, you can never fully eliminate pain and suffering. You can mask it, call it something else perhaps, but you cannot rid the world of it. Does this then make The Giver a positive take on humanity or a negative one? I’m not quite sure. I am sure, however, that memory of both pain and happiness is something we should always strive to hold onto because what would we be without the knowledge of how we got here today? Even heartbreak, loss, and pain are feelings worth remembering, though we often wish for nothing more than to forget.
However, what struck me most about this novel was its ending. Lowry finished The Giver in a decade where books were not originally crafted to be in threes; where ‘trilogy’ had not yet become the publication norm. Eventually, Lowry would come to write three accompanying novels to The Giver, but, personally, I appreciate an inconclusive ending. I think that Lowry’s original intent–to publish the one novel–creates an entirely different meaning than the more conclusive set of four. The ending of The Giver forces you to answer the question: And then what? Was it music that Jonas was hearing? Did Jonas succeed? Would it have been better to stay in his community and follow the original plan? While some readers could be driven to insanity for such open-ended and unanswerable questions, I think that asking young adults to consider these questions is a way of also asking them where they are going themselves, what they know to be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and, most importantly, question the kind of people they believe themselves to be.
While I haven’t had the chance to see the film just yet, I found Lowry’s comments on the film adaption particularly noteworthy as well:
“The important thing is that another medium–stage, film, music–doesn’t obliterate a book. The movie is here now, on a big screen, with stars and costumes and a score. But the book hasn’t gone away. It has simply grown, grown larger, and begun to glisten in a new way.”
So whether you re-read the novel to gain a new understanding or went to the big-screen to see a different kind of adaption, I sincerely hope you found something to discuss, to analyze, or to love in this book. In the best case scenario, you may have stumbled upon old memories or created new ones. Either way, let us know what you thought in the comments below!