"I feel sorry for anyone who is in a place where he feels strange and stupid."
My understanding about The Giver is that it's an actual assigned book in a lot of American schools, so you'll excuse me if this post has your childhood education rushing back to you. I've come to it as an adult, so I'll probably have a different take on it than you did when you were, say, 12; but possibly only in that I really have two takes on it, one good, one so irritated. But we'll get to all of that, because first of all it's very important for you to know that I only read this because there's a film coming out this summer (I think) and it stars some really great people: Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, *ahem* Alexander Skarsgard...
But anyway, here's the trailer for that...
I don't even know how I feel about it now that I've read the book, but I'll surely go and see it anyway! Important note: I'm really glad they've changed the way the giver 'gives' the information, because in the book, the twelve year old has to take his shirt off and be rubbed by the old man, so. Yeah. Awkward.
Anyway. The Giver. I have this innate fondness of dystopias that I blame on The Handmaid's Tale and 1984, so I'm always keen to read a new one, even if it has been sliiiightly overdone in YA fiction in recent times*, but The Giver was published in 1993, so... Not exactly recent times. In terms of writing and plotting and things like that, I feel like it's not that well written and the story doesn't exactly develop in the ways I wanted it to, but that's kind of what I expect from YA books, and I can definitely see how it could be a good jumping off point in classrooms for all kinds of discussions, which is really the main point of it. So let's have some of those discussions, shall we?
Firstly. I want to discuss The Giver as an anti-socialist piece of propaganda, which OH MY GOD, it definitely seems like. In The Giver, the characters live in a world where everything is the same, everyone has the same milestones and no hobbies, careers, spouses and children are assigned and everything is just very equal, and safe, and seems to be really dull (only with a core of horridness which is mostly hinted at and only rarely seen). It's basically the kind of world that people who are against socialism would assume would be the end result, in that everyone is kind of the same, all emotions and 'stirrings' (that's sexual feelings, folks) have to be suppressed so that nobody wants to hurt anybody (or do anything else with them for that matter) and everything is very efficient and clean and... boring.
I can't even tell you the number of things wrong with this as an end view of socialism, and it just makes me want to scream about how socialism is actually the best and why can't we distribute wealth more evenly and what the fuck, how would socialism mean that nobody saw colours anymore? Because of things like that, I assume that Lowry wasn't necessarily thinking 'I must take down socialism' when she wrote The Giver, but it definitely feels like she went 'but HOW would a socialist society really work?' and then went insane.
But. If we get off that point, since it's kind of something that didn't really occur to me until after I'd finished reading and went 'HEY, I like socialism though', we can talk about some other questions that it raises. Like... In order to live in a world without crime, or lying, or poverty, or other bad things like that, would emotion and memory of the past and all forms of entertainment have to be outlawed? And, if you don't know any different, is that really such a high price to pay? In the back of the copy I read, there were discussion questions (because, YA) and one was 'is the world in The Giver a utopia or a dystopia?' And shit, I was so surprised because, yeah, I guess you could see it as a utopia even though, as someone who lives in the land of emotions, it seemed like a grey living nightmare.
How I feel about emotions is, they're kind of everything. As much as they hurt, as much as they can leave you down for days, I'd rather have the highs and lows of life than have nothing at all. I feel like that, of course, because I have them and I have also been in a state where I haven't had them, and I know for a fact which one is better. But if I'd never had them? It's an interesting thought, because shit, sometimes they hurt so much, but we'd also kind of be nothing without them. To not be sad when someone dies, to not even have families that you actually invest in and care about, to be without love? What's the point? But if you've never had them, and you live in a clean and comforting and safe world, AND you don't know what has been given up? I don't know.
What the giver really gives, anyway, is emotions rather than memories, and once they are given, they can't be taken away, can't be forgotten, and they make everything seem pointless, and dull, and much less alive than the world used to be. It's interesting that Jonas (our twelve year old hero who I haven't mentioned like 8 paragraphs in... Whoops!) keeps making justifications for why things aren't the way they used to be anymore ('well... I can see why they got rid of that, it's to keep us safe!') because being raised in a certain way is a very powerful thing.
So, I don't think this is the greatest book in the world, and the writing and even the story leaves a lot to be desired (soooo much talking...) BUT it did make me think about a lot of things so it's worth it just for that. You've probably read it already anyway, so I don't need to give it a thumbs up or down, but you know. It's alright. I probably wouldn't read it again, but I'm glad I read it this once.
*After I finished this, I started Uglies. It's too soon to tell if it's good or not... Why am I reading so much YA when I know I don't really like it? *shrug*
I never really considered the Giver to be saying that socialism is bad. Mind you, I read it in school (despite it being a british school! Hehe) when I was in year 8 or 9, and so probably wasn't really thinking too much about it! I COMPLETELY see where you're coming from, but to be honest, I can remember thinking that a lot about the society completely made sense if you ignore the fact that nobody really feels anything. And in a lot of ways that would actually be much nicer than the society that we live in. So I never really saw the organisation of the society to be a problem (barring some aspects of it), the problem with the society was more that nobody had any free will as they didn't have the capacity for it, because they were all completely ignorant. Personally thinking about it (bearing in mind that I haven't read it for years!!!), I feel like it was more saying that that kind of society is pointless if nobody has actually decided for themselves that that is what they want. I'm not sure that I would read it as outright anti-socialist propoganda. But then, I haven't read it for over 10 years, so I could be blocking all of that out!!!ReplyDelete
I am completely on the socialism, yayyy! side of the fence, although I think that realistically it isn't possible, because for socialism to work everyone has to want to work for the greater good, and although some people are perfectly capable of that, there are loads of lazy, greedy or just idiotic people around who could ruin it (and to be honest, I am probably one of them! Although I wish I wasn't!)
It would be interesting to see an actual example of socialism done right though (i.e. not in any of the ways that people have tried so far, because they were all disasters and weren't really real examples of socialism/communism in the first place).
The whole thing about how the memories are transmitted would probably creep me out too if I read it now, but I don't remember thinking it was weird at all when I was younger. Either I was too young to think about it, or society has changed so that that kind of behaviour is now seen as inherently creepy, even if it's completely innocent. It's probably a good thing that the behaviour that is actually creepy is getting called out, but maybe it's not so much of a good thing that a lot of perfectly innocent behaviour is now seen as creepy. Hmm.
WOW this is a long comment, haha, I apologise! I hope it makes sense!
SUCH A LONG COMMENT! Hahaha. I don't think it's an out and out thing that's like SOCIALISM IS BAD, but I think it's definitely like taken a version of Socialism to its extreme and being like 'well, socialism decides everything for you so it would turn you into an emotionless automaton, but hey, at least everyone would be equal!' I don't know, it definitely made me feel uneasy in that way at certain points.Delete
I don't know if I agree with you about socialism not being able to work. Or at least VERSIONS of socialism. Like, I think France, and SWEDEN are way more Socialist than the UK (which is way more socialist than the US) and I think the way they do things is much better. So... I guess at least Socialist leanings are totally cool. Or something.
Oh, you're definitely right about the creepiness though. I wouldn't have thought anything of it if I'd read it when I was younger, but when it came up in the book I was kind of like 'hmm. Awkward.' so I was pretty relieved when he just touches his wrists in the film!
That Skarsgard face is one of my most favourite things in the world.ReplyDelete
For some reason I think I always combined the Giver and The Giving Tree in my mind, so I was really confused how they'd made a movie (considering the Giving Tree is a picture book) and that it was going to be this intense dystopian story. But anyway, I'd been thinking about reading it but it's hard to find decent reviews because, like you said, it seems people read it in school so they either irrationally hate it (thanks English curriculum for sucking all the fun out of reading) or love it without being able to say, as an adult, why. So thank you for reviewing this - even if I'm still on the fence about whether or not I want to give it a read.
Haha, you're welcome and sorry I didn't give you a conclusive reason to read/not read it. I mean, it took me probably less than 3 hours to read, and I didn't hate it at all. So there's that, but I also don't think it's that amazing either. I AM STILL LEAVING YOU ON THE FENCE, AREN'T I?!Delete
I am so on the fence about it I can do fancy break-dance moves without worrying about falling off. BUT 3 hours you say, I am okay with reading even bleugh books if they only take 3 hours to read.Delete
I CANNOT EVEN HANDLE ANY CRITICISM OF THE GIVER BECAUSE IT IS A CHILDHOOD BOOK BUT HAPPY BIRTHDAY AND YAYYYYYYReplyDelete
That's fair, I get that! (Just don't reread it. Don't do it.)Delete
The Giver is one of those books I feel like everyone read and I did not. Whoops. I have to say given your review, I probably won't.ReplyDelete
Eh, it's definitely skippable. I feel like it's the kind of book I would have been in love with when I was a teenager, but now it's just like 'eh. Really?'Delete
Still definitely going to see the movie though. For obvious reasons.
I have never read The GIver. And I bizarrely thought that it was a Holocaust book for children. I had no idea that it was a dystopia setting well ahead of its time.ReplyDelete
As for the whole socialism argument, well, I'm gonna leave that one untouched. To kinda paraphrase Bill Bryson, it's clear that pure socialism hasn't worked and it's sad that pure capitalism seems like the system that is here to stay. Which is why I'm oddly drawn, theoretically, to a socialist capitalism or a capitalist socialism. Guess I didn't leave that one untouched after all.
Aw, I remember that Bill Bryson bit. Although wasn't that communism? Where he's like 'yeah, communism didn't work, but I think we need to acknowledge that it was a compassionate and awesome ideal.' My theory on it all is that just because something hasn't worked yet, doesn't mean it never will, right?Delete
I'm going to dust off my first year uni notes and state that the reason communism/socialism "didn't work" is that it was supposed to be the natural evolution after capitalism, but because we tried to force it early it just did not jive. Also, when a single person tries to force something like communism/socialism on a populace it is inherently flawed and is doomed to fail from the start.Delete