The Giver Setting

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Discover the ways in which the setting, a dystopian planned community, reflects the central themes and society depicted in ''The Giver'', such as 'self. vs society' and 'inside vs. outside'

This Is No Neverland

Neverland, Narnia, Fantasia, Middle Earth... Young adult fiction is at no loss for imaginative realms. Fantasy settings usually depict the environment at its best: picturesque, lush, tranquil. At first, the setting in The Giver appears to be an idyllic community. But unlike other similar young adult science fiction and fantasy novels, this society has a dark underbelly. Lowry invites readers to contemplate how society might go wrong in the future, a central feature of dystopian fiction also sometimes called speculative fiction.

The Giver is set in an unspecified future with no exact date and an emphasis on the present. There is also significance to the month of December, established in the opening passage as Jonas prepares for 'The Ceremony of Twelve,' the annual selection ritual in which graduating adolescents receive their work appointments. It is implied that every year is more or less the same.

There is no sense of progress or tradition, nor history or future projection. The society functions without a sense of the past. For this reason, the Giver plays a vital role in this community. As the bearer of memory, he alone holds the key to understanding history. The central conflict in the novel revolves around this dichotomy: self vs. society. Do the needs of the community outweigh the rights of the individual?

Planned Community

The idyllic community setting provides more than a backdrop for this conflict. The way in which the landscape, the buildings, and daily routine has been planned reflects upon the nature of the society and helps explain the ethical questions involved. The Giver presents a vision of a planned community: a city or town that has been designed both architecturally and socially. Every little detail in this community has been planned and prepared so that individuals are unburdened by having to make decisions. This is taken to an extreme in the novel where life is intricately planned from birth to death. It begins with incubation in the Nurturing Center and ends with the Ceremony of Loss.

Within the context of the community, some important places emerge, such as the Halls of Open and Closed Records, the Rehabilitation Center, family dwellings, the Auditorium, and the Annex (where the Giver lives). This final place is of particular interest. An annex is typically a type of building added after the fact, and its name suggests a location set off from the rest of the community in The Giver. This emphasizes the Giver's status as a hermit, somehow different from the rest and thus separated. The reader also gets the sense that these places and events are special because the words are capitalized, adding to the sense that the society is planned and managed with unfamiliar customs.

A planned community in Japan.
Kyoto

One notable, real world example of planned communities can be found in the 'green towns' that were built by the Resettlement Administration, an agency funded by the New Deal during the Great Depression. Its task was to provide homes for struggling Americans who were forced to relocate in the 1930s. The federal government funded and executed the design of three 'green' towns within commuting distance to major US cities: Greenbelt, MD (outside Washington DC), Greendale, WI (outside Milwaukee), and Greenhills, OH (outside Cincinnati). These cities established a precedent for designed communities that inspired the construction of further suburban towns. The ultimate design goal was to provide a safe, beautiful setting for people to live within commuting distance of cities. They were designed to be the best of both worlds, balancing the beauty of nature and the convenience of urban living, but suburbanization also led to what we now refer to as 'concrete jungles' or large landscapes of only concrete structures.

Example of a planned community design.
garden city

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