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Literary Devices in The Giver

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will review some literary devices, such as point of view, setting, theme, and plot. Not only will we define them, but we will use examples from 'The Giver' by Lois Lowry to illustrate them.

Point of View

Think of the last book you read. Push plot details aside and ask yourself -- who told this story? Was it one of the characters speaking through their own inner thoughts? Or maybe an all-knowing narrator outside of the main story? The answer to that question lies in the point of view, or the perspective of the narrator.

In Lois Lowry's The Giver, the story is told from the third person limited perspective. This means that the narrator is not a character in the story, and is therefore able to give an objective account of the events. However, the narrator is also privy to the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist, Jonas.

For example, the following passage tells the thoughts and feelings of Jonas though they are delivered by the narrator, 'It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened. No. Wrong word, Jonas thought. Frightened meant that deep, sickening feeling of something terrible about to happen.'

Presenting information from the third person limited perspective allows the reader to trust that the information is factual,rather than colored through the perspective of a character, but also gives insight into Jonas that we might not see as a third party observer.

Setting

The setting is the time, place, and situation in which the story takes place. In The Giver, the story takes place in a futuristic, dystopian society where color, sunshine, and feelings have been replaced by shades of gray, climate control, and rules. 'Our people made that choice, the choice to go to Sameness. Before my time, before the previous time, back and back and back. We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with differences,' explains the Giver. This setting allows the readers to consider big ideas, such as following the crowd, to an extreme that would not exist is the present or past.

Theme

The theme is the story's purpose. In The Giver, one of the main themes is the comparison of individuality to conformity. Under individuality, you have thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and choices. In essence, individuality means freedom, but with freedom comes risks.

Under the extremes of conformity, on the other hand, you have stability, cooperation, comfort, and safety. Conformity might be boring, but it is painless. 'And now he was starving. But if he had stayed...His thoughts continued. If he had stayed, he would have starved in other ways. He would have lived a life hungry for feelings, for color, for love,' thinks Jonas as he wonders if he and Gabriel will survive outside of the community.

Some other minor themes include:

  • the relationship between ignorance and happiness: Would Jonas have been happier if he had never known that colors and feelings existed? What if he had remained in the dark about Release?
  • the relationship between pleasure and pain: Jonas is willing to endure sunburns to feel the joy of sun on his skin.
  • sometimes when you have nothing else, memories will sustain you. 'But he began, suddenly, to feel happy. He began to recall happy times. He remembered his parents and his sister. He remembered his friends, Asher and Fiona. He remembered The Giver. Memories of joy flooded through him suddenly.'

Plot

The plot refers to the events in the story. In The Giver, Jonas lives in a community of the future where the people have elected to do away with differences and conform to a strict set of rules. All the people are the same, the weather is always the same, and all of the families are the same. People are content, comfortable, and well-cared for, but if they don't conform or don't fit the standard, they are released, or killed by lethal injection.

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