"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*