This weekend Forrest is out-of-town. I was nervous that I would be afraid to be in the house by myself, especially at night, or that if there were spiders I wouldn’t be able to kill them on my own. But since his departure on Thursday I’ve actually been just fine. I miss him, of course, but none of my fears have become realities. Ironically enough it was a storm this morning coupled with the last few chapters of The Giver that made me quake in my boots. Who knew this book was so creepy and why didn’t I remember that from my first read-through a few years back?
I will admit that despite the creepiness and my previous apathy toward this story I was deeply moved this time around. For those who have never read Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery winner (her first Newbery award was in 1990) the story is about a community that is governed by strict rules and a suppression of individuality. The protagonist is an 11-year-old boy named Jonas who is about to turn 12, which means an assignment, or job, will be chosen for him by the Committee of Elders. Jonas is surprised when he’s chosen to be the Receiver of Memory, the most distinguished position among the Elders. During Jonas’ training the current Receiver takes on the role of the Giver, transmitting all the memories from the past that he has kept over to Jonas. Some of the memories are pleasant and others are painful. The position is honored because the Receiver holds all the memories so that everyone else won’t be burdened by them. He carries both the weight of remembering love, joy and beauty as well as pain, death and grief so that everyone else in the community can live in blissful un-awareness. For the community there is no color, no real feelings and no love because with those things come the potential for great pain. It’s startling to think of a world without color, without music and especially without love, and as Jonas is introduced to them and begins to grasp them during his time with the Giver he experiences profound loneliness since no else has the capacity to understand.
What makes the story creepy? From the start of the book there is something called release that happens when a baby isn’t growing like it should, when an old person reaches a certain age, when someone is no longer useful to the community or when a person has disobeyed the law three times. It’s funny that I really didn’t remember exactly what ‘release’ was, but I had an inkling that it meant those people were disposed of and not sent to another community like everyone in the book believes. It isn’t until a scene near the end of the story when Jonas witnesses a release that the true definition is given. Twins are born and one of them is to be kept (the one who weighs more) and the other is to be released. Jonas watches, unbeknownst to his father, as the defective twin is injected with some kind of serum and dies. With this knowledge Jonas takes action to leave the community.
What stands out to me in all of this is the picture Lowry paints of people doing things without knowing any different. To Jonas’ father it is not out of the ordinary to kill a baby because he had been made to believe that was just the way of things, especially because it was in the best interests of the entire community. They didn’t miss having colors in their black and white life, or the sound of music or depth of emotions because they had no knowledge that those things even existed. It leaves me feeling a variety of things about my own life. First of all, do I live a certain way, aka in the black and white because I’m fearful of the pain that might accompany living in color? Do I shy away from stepping out of my shell because I don’t want to get hurt? Do I do things without questioning the validity of them but accept them because that’s just the way they are? Would I, or do I have the courage of Jonas to accept a different view of reality and leave the comfort of my own familiarity? These questions are all in the abstract but to bring it home I am thinking of my own propensity to do what is safe (whether physically or emotionally speaking) for fear that stepping outside of that boundary might result in getting my knees scraped or my heart broken. By reading this story and becoming convinced of its beauty (despite its creepiness) I still want to stay in my cocoon of safety, but now desire the courage to step out a little more than I’m used to. All this is not to stay that I don’t live a very lovely life of deep love, music and color. What I’m trying to say is that I play it safe much too often and am afraid of taking chances that could leave me crippled and hurt. But maybe it’s worth the risk?
“All of it was new to him. After a life of Sameness and predictability, he was awed by the surprises that lay beyond each curve of the road. He slowed the bike again and again to look with wonder at wildflowers, to enjoy the throaty warble of a new bird nearby, or merely to watch the way wind shifted the leaves in the trees. During his twelve years in the community, he had never felt such simple moments of exquisite happiness.” (The Giver, pg. 171)
May each of us choose color no matter the fear of pain that might come along with it.
Till next time…