The Giver by Lois Lowry

This is the first dystopian novel we have read together, so let’s clarify some main points before we investigate the novel’s main themes.

What is dystopia? What are the features of the dystopian novel we can detect in “The Giver”?

Watch the following video and answer the first question. Then read the bullet points and see whether you can tick off some pertaining “The Giver”.

Most young people are interested in dystopia, why?

In dystopia “Teenagers see echoes of a world that they know.” These books don’t always have a happy ending, and they’re all about choices and consequences.  Dystopian novels fit right in, they have all that sadness plus big, emotional ideas: justice, fairness, loyalty and mortality.

“Having provided vivid examples of what such a place might look like, these dystopian future novels do as you suggest; they offer young readers the chance to think about what kind of world they would create for themselves if they could forge everything again. There are things they would save and other things that they would lose. Taken together, that gives young readers a way of thinking about what most needs preserving. Breaking and making is at the heart of a great many stories; the devastation of the old highlights the importance of the new when it is rediscovered or reinvented.

In addition, stories such as these empower children by trusting them with roles far beyond reality. Typically, the destruction wipes out “good” adult rulers; children step into the breach. It’s not a new fictional phenomenon.”

Read the following and see whether you were right in your assumptions.

The Giver is set in a futuristic society, governed by a complex set of rules to make living safe and comfortable, yet these rules deprive people of some important aspects?  What are they?  Would you like to live in the Giver’s society?  Why (not)?  Think of the pros and cons.

The society depicted is seductive, the reader thinks this is a good place to live in.  When does it become clear that this utopian society is actually dystopian?  There is no crime, no inequality, no discrimination?  Why?  There are hints along the way that make you understand that that is not such a comfortable place.

The world of Jonas is equal, the people’s lives are orderly because there are lots of rules.  But there’s something desperately lacking.  What?

Well, the reason is that everybody is the same colour, people see things in black and white and just Jonas and the Giver can see colours.  There is no crime because there is no money, everybody has what they want, everybody has their wants taken care of.  By the end of the novel Jonas and thus the reader becomes aware that there is a terrible underbelly (: negative aspect) to this place where he lives. Terrible compromises have been made.  In creating a safe and stable society the governing body has obliterated personal choice.  People have paid a terrible price even though, with the exception of Jonas and the Giver, all people are unaware of that.

Jonas sets out to change the world.  In what ways?

Some people in the USA want to remove this book from the list of readings recommended at school.  They are frightened by it and object to it.  Why do you think this is the case? (this info is taken from an interview to the writer)

The title of the novel has different meanings.  The writer Lois Lowry explains it in this interview:

The novel focuses on the importance of memory.  Why are memories important?  Why did the writer come up with this theme?  What if we cancelled bad memories?  How could we manipulate memory? What if the memory of happiness (Christmas, grandparents don’t exist, etc.).  Would it be a good thing to delete bad memories?

Eradicating memories implies destroying feelings as well.

At the beginning of another interview Lois Lowry claims that the world young people (YOU) live now is more frightening than the one she experienced when she was young (after WW2, she was born in 1937) and to her this explains why young people turn to books that postulate the future.  Do you agree?  The young character wants to affect the future.  How does he do that?  What do you do or would you do to change and improve the future?

Re-watch the interview and become the interviewer.  As you see you can’t hear the interviewer’s questions to the answers given by the author.  Ask those questions and ask at least three of your own.

Different covers have been designed for the novel The Giver.  Which one of the following three do you like best and why?

The film adaptation is always different from the original text for a series of reasons.  Here are two trailers of the film, which one do you like better and why?  What are the aspects of the novel faithfully rendered? Can you spot the passages in the novel?  What aspects, instead, are added?  Can you think of why the scriptwriter and the film director made these changes/additions?

If you really like dystopia, why not choosing a dystopian film of your own choice and present it to the class?  Choose the most relevant passages (not more than three), show short clips and mention what features of dystopia the film present.  If the film is adapted from a novel, see whether you can find an interesting excerpt to be read out in class.

Have fun.

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