Posts tagged ‘Lois Lowry’

September 24, 2010

Imagine if you had the power to GIVE color to some who could only see in black and white

I would argue that you do have this power.  We all do.  I’ve never met someone who sees the world the same way I do.  This could mean that I’m some kind of mutant.  But more likely I think it means that we all see things differently.    And by having real conversations with each other, we can spread the color around until all of our worlds become so colorful, so multi-dimensional that we would have no choice but to see the other person’s point of view.

That would be power.  The kind of power that changes the world.  And in Jonas’s world in the beautifully conceived Giver, that’s exactly what does happen.

Title: The Giver
Author: Lois Lowry
: Fantasy
Age: Middle School, 9 – 13

Summary and Review:

Jonas is 12 and he is about to learn his profession, chosen for him by the elders in his society and handed out in a ceremony with his peers.  But Jonas isn’t chosen for one of the standard jobs of child-rearing or cleaning.  Instead, he is chosen to be the next “Receiver of Memories” and as his training begins, he starts to realize things about his world he never saw before.

The first thing Jonas does is stop taking the drugs prescribed to all citizens when they reach adolescence.  He notices feelings for girls he never had before.  He starts to see in color when before he only saw in black and white (and significantly, the first thing he sees is the red of an apple).  And he starts to learn the stories from his predecessor, the stories and memories of all that has been taken from his community, all that came before.  He learns about weather that isn’t always perfect.  He learns about war and pain, love and loss.  He learns what it really means when a child who doesn’t developed properly is “released”.  And gradually but finally, he decides he cannot bear the burden of knowledge alone, in a world where these things will never exist.

(SPOILER ALERT) I’ve heard some people complain that the ending is too vague–that they want to know exactly what happens to Jonas.  But Jonas is escaping a world where everything is predictable and controlled.  The fact that he has even made it into the unknown means he has succeeded.  And that, to me, is the whole point.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

I could talk about this book for months.  In fact, I’ve used it in the classroom, to talk with seventh graders about utopia and dystopia and what those themes means.  Nowadays, I suppose every seventh grader has read Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy (which I also love) and so they have been certainly introduced to those themes.  This book is less violent, perhaps more subtle, more introspective, but no less powerful.  And this book isn’t about a community-wide struggle for freedom, but simply one boy’s quest for the truth in the world, even if that quest comes from understanding just how painful that truth can be.

One great family activity after reading this book would be to watch the movie Pleasantville.   It has a lot of similar themes–a seemingly perfect society where everything is in black and white, everyone is “happy”, if only in conversation, and the weather is perfect.  There is also no outside world.  But then two modern kids are zapped through their television (Pleasantville is an old TV show) and they start to change the society.  Through their actions the citizens of Pleasantville are introduced to color, love, sex, and knowledge along with hatred, bigotry, and censorship.  The image of the red apple also appears symbolically in the film.

(SPOILER ALERT) The movie also ends on slightly vague terms, although not as vague as the book, giving rise to the idea (and great discussion topic) that uncertainty is one of the prices we pay for our freedom.

Simply comparing the movie and the book will give you a lot to talk about and illuminate a lot of important themes.  Some other questions you might want to discuss are:

– Why did the people of Jonas’s society decide to create it the way they did?  What do you think were the benefits?  Do you see any benefit to living in a black and white, seemingly “perfect” society?

– Why did they create a “Receiver of Memories” if they wanted to erase those things from their own memories?

– If you were in Jonas’s position, would you have done the same thing?  Why?

– Is there anything in our own society that attempts to make things “more pleasant” for us at the expense of knowledge or experience?  What is that?  Do you think it’s a good idea?  Are there things we shouldn’t be allowed to learn by making our own mistakes or having our own experiences?  (Examples might include laws that protect us from ourselves, like a drinking age, school dress codes, internet filters at school or a library, etc.)

– If you were to design the “perfect” society, what would it look like?  What kind of laws would you have?