Visualize a peaceful dystopian world where individuality and the right to choose have been eliminated, senses muted, along with removal of other critical aspects of humanity and passed off as the ideal Utopian world. The Giver by Lois Lowry is an engrossing book that I stumbled on. Found it to be a refreshingly different and thought-provoking read when compared to some of the other mainstream dystopian YA novels. It is one of those books that compelled me to pause, to share my thoughts on it, before picking up the next book to read.
Finished reading it in just a few sittings. A smooth, simple and fast paced read with a hard-hitting theme. Narrated through the viewpoint of a 12 year old boy. The author has portrayed a post-apocalyptic (implied) society devoid of the ability to perceive colors, music and with muted emotions and controlled usage of vocabulary and of course all prior memories (of history tied with emotions) entrusted in the safekeeping of the giver (one per community). A society that seems to have eliminated the right to choose, along with memories from the masses. Suppressed and streamlined the sensory perceptions to achieve a sense of “sameness” and any uniqueness is retained only for the purpose of division of labour rather than for individuality. A feat of social conditioning achieved over several generations either through artificial means or thought and action control or a combination of both. All this…in their endeavor for a safe event-free protected living that is not influenced or threatened by strong emotions, hormones (all are expected to take a pill everyday the moment puberty sets in to keep hormonal urges at bay), external influences (so no access to books either, apart from the giver and receiver). They are ignorant of pain (physical or emotional), sadness, hate, anger and along with it lose the the opposite emotions of pleasure, happiness and love except for the wise old giver.
Initial glimpse of an Utopian society at the beginning of the book steadily expands to show us a society suspended in a state of numbness and apathy. A totalitarian dystopian landscape emerges, one that “releases” those who do not fit their ideal of “sameness”. The protagonist is the 12 year-old boy named Jonas, who gets the highest yet dubious honor of being selected as the receiver.
As he receives memories and the training to handle them, from the wise old giver to transition into the new giver of the community, Jonas begins to question the current ideology. He seeks to bring about a change and secretly starts transmitting the memories to another young child. The turning point comes when Jonas learns what “release” means, after he watches his father, in his role of a nurturer of the young, perform a release and finds out that his 12 year-old friend Fiona is also being trained in the art of releasing, in her role of a caregiver of the old. This revelation along with another impending release, triggers Jonas to take the next steps that brings the story to a conclusion.
As the protagonist, he represents the awakening or rather an uprising of individuality and the promise of change that seeks to bring back what it truly means to experience life as a human.
The antagonist is the mindset that is deeply ingrained in the society rather any specific group or person making it all the more grim, sinister and powerful.
The ending is left open to interpretation.
The narrative style is direct, simple and minimalistic almost in tune with the theme. Yet so much is conveyed by means of non-embellished sparsity and words left unsaid. It stimulates the imagination of the reader to complete the compelling picture that takes shape in the mind. Few aspects of the book, made me think of and draw parallels with the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
A strongly recommended read. I haven’t watched the movie adaptation so unable to comment on that.