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Themes of 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.

The Lois Lowry novel, 'The Giver' touches on several themes, particularly surrounding happiness, pain, and freedom. This book is about a dystopian society that prefers to close their eyes to the past.

History Matters

Imagine that all of a sudden the person closest to you cannot remember anything. What memories would you share with him? What would you want that person to know about himself, you, your relationship, and the world around him? In The Giver by Lois Lowry, it is not just one person who has lost touch with his past, but an entire community of people. As Jonas, the new Receiver of Memory for the community, begins to gain knowledge of the past, he learns about the relationship between pleasure and pain, the importance of individuality over conformity, and the value and limitations of memories. Keep reading to learn more about these themes in the novel. A theme is a point that the author is trying to make through the story.

Pleasure and Pain

When the Chief Elder announces Jonas' assignment as the town's next Receiver of Memory, she warns, …you will be faced, now,…with pain of a magnitude that none of us here can comprehend because it is beyond our experience. The only type of pain that anyone in the community had experienced were minor bumps and bruises, such as skinned knees. Jonas never imagined how intense not only physical pain from injury could be, but also other types of pain like hunger, grief, loneliness, rejection, and terror. This type of pain is what prompted Jonas' community to lead a life of Sameness and conformity years earlier.

However, Jonas soon learns that this decision also resulted in innumerable sacrifices. On the flip side, the people never experienced love, freedom, happiness, excitement, or peace. Jonas soon learns that trading the risk of pain for a life of monotonous stability is not worth sacrificing joy. Once he escapes his community, he feels hunger, fear, and cold in a way that he never imagined, but he also found something else. During his twelve years in the community, he had never felt such simple moments of exquisite happiness. The message in this theme is that in order to receive and appreciate the best life has to offer, you also have to endure some bad experiences.

Individuality

In addition to pleasure and pain, the community sacrificed things like color. Color represents many things, both good and bad. Without color, racial tension disappears. There was a time, actually --- you'll see this in the memories later - when flesh was many different colors. That was before we went to Sameness. Eliminating color, also eliminates choices. Kids do not choose what color pajamas they are going to wear because everything is the same.

The citizens learn at a very early age to accept what they are given. When it comes to bigger decisions, later, like who to marry, what career to pursue, and how many children to have, the citizens continue to accept what they are told to do. The best part is that no one ever makes the wrong decision! The Giver explains, We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.

Jonas was perfectly happy, and understood the practicality of the way things were done in the community, until he learned that it could be different. If everything's the same, then there aren't any choices! I want to wake up in the morning and decide things! Jonas' lack of personal freedom begins to eat away at him. When he learns more about the way his father and Fiona kill young babies and the elderly without giving it a thought, he realizes that blind conformity can be dangerous. Lowry emphasizes the theme that sacrificing individuality for conformity is a slippery slope.

Memories

When Jonas is named the Receiver of Memory for the community, he doesn't realize what that means. His only experience with memories is from working volunteer hours in the House of the Old. The Old like to tell about their childhoods, and it's always fun to listen. But soon he learns that memories are more than just entertaining stories.

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