Is The Giver a Dystopia or a Utopia?

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  • 0:00 Living in a Perfect World
  • 0:46 A Perfect World Gone Wrong
  • 2:04 ''The Giver'' as a…
  • 2:53 ''The Giver'' as a…
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Imagine living in a perfect world, where everyone gets along. Does such a place actually exist? This lesson seeks to answer the question at hand: Is Lois Lowry's 'The Giver' a dystopia or a utopia?

Living in a Perfect World

Imagine a world without war, where everyone gets along. People share with one another, no one ever goes hungry, and no one ever hurts. Each person has a warm and comfortable place to live. The government takes care of its people and maintains order, and citizens exist in a problem-free society. Sounds pretty great, right?

This dreamlike, imaginary state is a utopia, a perfect place made up of a perfect government, perfect society, and perfect people. Over the course of human history, many people have thought about the possibility of a utopia. Wouldn't it be great to trade the brutal realities of the world for a peaceful coexistence? Could a place like this ever exist?

A Perfect World Gone Wrong

Unfortunately, the short answer is 'no.' While many have tried to create the perfect society, an equal number have failed. Why is this the case? At the end of the day, being a human being is complicated. We're often selfish, we don't always think rationally, and we deal with the stickiness of emotions. But we can still dream about the perfect society, right?

Many authors have envisioned perfect societies and the ways their characters have achieved them. In most instances, these idyllic places are not actually utopias. They're dystopias. A dystopia is the opposite of a utopia.

Leaders of dystopian societies start off with the best of intentions. They get rid of war, eliminate poverty, and decrease social problems. Unfortunately, the people living under such perfect conditions are inherently imperfect, so governments and societies try to correct that, too. People living in dystopian societies are usually subjected to mind control. They lose their rights, and in many cases, they lose themselves as individuals. Ultimately, everything a dystopian society does to make the world more perfect actually makes the human condition worse.

So what about the imaginary world of Lois Lowry's The Giver? Is this society a utopia or a dystopia? Let's find out!

The Giver as a Utopian Society

The Giver takes place at some point in the distant future, and at first, it seems pretty great. Outwardly, society doesn't have any big problems. Everyone has a home, everyone has a job, and everyone is well fed. People behave appropriately, there are no major crimes, and everyone is calm. To top it off, there's no suffering and no pain.

When old people are ready to die, they're 'released' into the area beyond society. We are told that they go 'elsewhere.' There, they can pass on in peace. When parents come home from work and children come home from school, they sit around the dinner table and share the highlights of their day. Everyone is supported and nurtured. After reading the first few pages of The Giver, it would appear that the book is about a utopia. If you keep reading, however, it becomes very clear that something is amiss.

The Giver as a Dystopian Society

Beneath the seemingly perfect surface, The Giver actually portrays a dystopian society. Let's start with the government. The Committee of Elders runs the show; it helps make laws and major decisions that affect everyone in society. When a child reaches the age of 11, the Committee of Elders determines what career path a child will follow. Every moment of people's lives is planned by someone else.

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