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The Giver is a dystopian children's novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a society which is at first presented as a utopian society and gradually appears more and more dystopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to "Sameness," a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of "Receiver of Memory," the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. When Jonas meets the previous receiver—The "Giver"—he is confused in many ways. The Giver is also able to break some rules, such as turning off the speaker and lying to people of the community. As Jonas receives the memories from the Giver, he discovers the power of knowledge. The people in his community are happy because they don't know of a better life, but the knowledge of what they are missing out on could create major chaos. He faces a dilemma: Should he stay with the community, his family living a shallow life without love, color, choices, and knowledge, or should he run away to where he can live a full life?
Despite controversy and criticism that the book's subject material is inappropriate for young children, The Giver won the 1994 Newbery Medal and has sold more than 5.3 million copies.  In Australia, the United States, and Canada, it is a part of many middle school reading lists, but it is also on many challenged book lists and appeared on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books of the 1990s. [ 1 ]
The novel forms a loose trilogy [ 2 ] with two other books set in the same future era: Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004). A fourth book titled Son is in preparation in 2012. [ 3 ] [ 4 ] [ 5 ] [ 6 ]
The society in which Jonas lives remains harmonious by assigning jobs to each individual according to a laborious evaluation of their skill, by matching up husbands and wives based on personality to balance out each other, and only allowing two children, one male and one female per family unit. Children are born to designated "Birth mothers" and then family units can apply for children. If the family unit applies for the maximum allowed number of two, the family unit will be augmented to fill out into a nuclear family by being issued one boy and one girl. This is to keep the genders even. After family units have served the purpose of raising the children in a stable environment, they cease to exist; the parents proceed to a communal housing facility for childless adults, and the children become involved in their work and start mono-generational families of their own, forgetting their foster parents as they grow older. The Community maintains this process using pills which suppress certainemotions, mainly romantic love and sexuality, which they refer to as "Stirrings".
All the land near the Community and around the other, similar communities clustered about the nearby river has been flattened to aid agriculture and transportation. Although the community has a salmon hatchery, all other animals have apparently been removed. Citizens' only exposure to the notion of animals is through the presence of stuffed animals, however, society has no understanding of what they represent, believing them to be simple, non-existent objects. The word "animal" is used to describe a foolish person, with no understanding of the connection between the two. A vaguely described system of weather control is used so that the weather remains constant. It is implied that genetic engineering has been used extensively to manipulate human beings so that they are all colorblind, and physically conform with Sameness. They even have the same dark eyes, as only Jonas (and a few other exceptions: Gabriel, The Giver, a female Five named Katherine, and Rosemary) is seen as different because of their light, pale eyes.
The Community is run by a Committee of Elders that assigns each 12-year-old the job—based on interests and aptitudes—he or she will perform for the rest of his or her productive working life, with a ceremony known as the Ceremony of Twelve, where all Elevens (eleven-year-olds) turn into Twelves on the same day. Its people are bound by an extensive set of rules touching every aspect of life, which if violated require a simple but somewhat ceremonious apology. In some cases, violating the rules is "winked at": older siblings invariably teach their younger brothers and sisters how to ride a bicycle before the children are officially permitted to learn the skill. If a member of the community has committed serious infractions three times before, or commits an especially serious infraction, he or she may be punished by "Release". "Release" is a procedure which is hinted at by the characters throughout the book. Originally, it is thought of as a process where the "Released" is sent to live outside of the community (known as Elsewhere in the book), but still in a good place. Eventually, it is revealed to be a system of lethal injection, employed not only as punishment, but also to ensure a monotony of means by which death occurs, which include elders who have lived past their expectancies, newborns who are considered inadequate, or anyone who applies for Release simply out of dissatisfaction of the community.
The book is told from a third person point of view. The protagonist, Jonas, is followed as he awaits the Ceremony of Twelve. Jonas lives in a standard family unit with his mother (a "law enforcer"), his father (a "Nurturer") and his seven (later becomes eight) year old sister named Lily. As he anticipates the Ceremony of Twelve, which is the last ceremony, he has a dream. He has to tell his family unit what his dream is and he explains how he dreamed that he was in the House of the Old (where he was before), alone in the bath house with his friend Fiona. He tries to explain how in his dream he wanted her to take off her clothes so he could bathe her though he feels angry at the same time, mostly due to her laughing in the dream and feeling slightly embarrassed while telling the dream, not knowing why. After he told his family this, his mother tells him to take pills to suppress the "Stirrings", or the beginning of sexual attraction, which is totally eliminated in Jonas's world, possibly even for Birthmothers, who may be impregnated via artificial insemination. When the day of the Ceremony of Twelve arrives, each of the eleven-year olds is called up by their number, which corresponds to the order in which they were born, (Jonas is nineteen) and is given their Assignment. However, the Chief Elder skips Jonas' number and proceeds with twenty. After everyone has been given their Assignment, the Chief Elder calls up Jonas and apologizes for the confusion. It is revealed that Jonas has been selected to be the next Receiver of Memory. The Chief Elder reveals to him that training will involve physical pain that the community has never felt before and that ten years ago, another selection was made but it was a failure. He is selected to be "Receiver of Memory" at the Ceremony of Twelve because of his unusual "Capacity to See Beyond", which is the ability to see color (or in other cases, hear music, which is referred to as "hearing beyond"), which the other people in the community cannot. This is noted in the fact that Jonas has lighter eyes, which only a few people, such as Jonas, Gabriel, The Giver, and a female Six named Katherine have rather than the dark eyes that everyone else has.
After Jonas has been selected to be the Receiver of Memories, he is set aside to receive training through the Giver (who was the last Receiver of Memory), who becomes his teacher. Jonas telepathically receives memories of things eliminated from his world: violence, sadness, and loss, as well as true love, beauty, joy, adventure, animals, and family. Having knowledge of these complex and powerful concepts alienates Jonas from his friends and family, as well as making him more cynical towards his previously sheltered life, as he often discusses with the Giver. Eventually, these revelations prompt Jonas to seek to change the community and return emotion and meaning to the world. He and the Giver plan on doing this by having Jonas leave the community, which would cause all of the memories he was given to be released to the rest of the people, allowing them to feel the powerful emotions that Jonas and the Giver feel. Eventually, Jonas asks the Giver if he ever thinks about his own release. This conversation leads to watching the release of a lighter child of a set of twin boys born that morning. Jonas watches in shock and horror as his father talks sweetly to the baby before giving the newborn a lethal injection, and then dumping the body down a garbage chute. It is also said by The Giver that the previous Receiver of Memory had applied for release, and had told them that she would prefer to inject herself. The Giver then reveals that he also had a child named Rosemary, who was the previously selected Receiver of Memory.
During the course of the novel, Jonas's family temporarily houses a baby named Gabriel, because he is unable to sleep throughout the night and disturbs the other babies in the "Nurturing Center". Jonas learns that unlike the other people in his community, "Gabe" can receive memories from Jonas, which he uses to help calm the baby. Because Gabriel still cannot sleep through the night without crying after the extra year he was given to learn how to sleep soundly, he is now destined to be released. Desperate, Jonas flees the community with Gabe. Also, he was given the instructions from the Giver to flee, and release all the memories that he had stored to the rest of the community. At first, the escape seems successful, with all of the search planes finally giving up their search for Jonas. Soon, however, food runs out and they grow weak. Cold and hungry, Jonas and Gabe begin to lose hope, but then remembering the memory of sunshine Jonas was given, he uses it and regains strength. Jonas begins to no longer care about himself, but only about Gabe's safety; it is here that he feels happy as he remembers his parents and sister, his friends and The Giver. Jonas and Gabriel cross a snow-covered hill in the dark and find a sled on top, which Jonas remembers from the first memory he ever received. He and Gabriel board the sled and go down the hill where they seem to hear music coming from some houses, which possibly could be Christmas, because he sees trees there too, which Jonas believes is the Beyond.
The ending is ambiguous, with Jonas depicted as experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. This leaves his and Gabriel's future unresolved. However, their fate is revealed in Messenger, a companion novel written much later.
- Jonas – An Eleven year old who later becomes a Twelve. He becomes the next Receiver of Memory in his community. He has a sister, Lily, and a mother and a father.
- The Giver – The most important person in the community. He can experience pain and love, and can see color, unlike those around him. His daughter, Rosemary, was the one selected to be the Receiver ten years before Jonas was selected. Rosemary asked to be released, and so that assignment was considered a failure. No one in the community can ever speak her name again, nor can it be used again for another child; this is considered the highest degree of disgrace.
- Lily – A Seven who later becomes an Eight. She is Jonas' sister. She "loves" children.
- Gabriel (Gabe) – A baby. When he becomes a One, he is given an additional year to be properly nurtured, due to his inability to sleep soundlessly. Jonas' father and family unit take care of him sometimes. He has pale eyes like Jonas'. He was scheduled to be released, but Jonas runs away with him in the end.
- Asher – Jonas's best friend; an Eleven, later a Twelve. Asher is a carefree, happy boy but tends to find himself facing trouble. He is assigned to be the Assistant Director of Recreation.
- Jonas's father – A Nurturer. He cares a lot about Gabriel, so he manages to give him an extra year to develop properly. He takes care of the new-children during the day. He is a shy and quiet man who is responsible for the physical and emotional needs of new-children.
- Jonas's mother – A judge who works for the Department of Justice.
- Fiona – an Eleven, later a Twelve; one of Jonas' friends. She is assigned to be the Caretaker of the Old. She appears in Jonas' dream that begins his Stirrings.
Literary significance and criticism
The critical reception of Lowry's work has been polarized. On one hand, The Giver has become something of a canonical work among educators who believe that young adult audiences respond best to contemporary literature.  These teachers postulate that "teenagers need a separate body of literature written to speak directly to the adolescent experience [...] and plots that revolve around realistic, contemporary topics". According to this view, a "classics-only" curriculum can stunt a developing reader's appetite for reading, though there are naturally teachers who argue the opposite viewpoint, and press to keep older works on the reading lists. [ 7 ]
Lowry's novel has also found a home in "City Reads" programs, library-sponsored reading clubs on city-wide or larger scales. Waukesha County, Dane County and Milwaukee County, Wisconsin chose to read The Giver, for example, as did Middletown, Connecticut; Bloomington, Illinois;Valparaiso, Indiana; Rochester, Minnesota; Central Valley, New York; Centre County, Pennsylvania; Montgomery County, Maryland and others. [ 8 ] [ 9 ]
Some adult reviewers writing for adults have commented that the story is not likely to stand up to the sort of probing literary criticism used in "serious" circles. For instance, 50 children are born each year by the group of "birthmothers" who each have 3 children – therefore 17 new "birthmothers" are required each year, even though this profession is looked down upon in the book. Karen Ray, writing in the New York Times, detects "occasional logical lapses", but quickly adds that the book "is sure to keep older children reading." [ 10 ] Young adult fiction author Debra Doyle was more critical stating that "Personal taste aside, The Giver fails the Plausibility Test", and that "Things are the way they are (in the novel) because The Author is Making A Point; things work out the way they do because The Author's Point Requires It.". [ 11 ]
Natalie Babbitt of the Washington Post was more forgiving, calling Lowry's work "a warning in narrative form", saying:
The story has been told before in a variety of forms—Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 comes to mind—but not, to my knowledge, for children. It's well worth telling, especially by a writer of Lowry's great skill. If it is exceedingly fragile—if, in other words, some situations don't survive that well-known suspension of disbelief—well, so be it. The Giver has things to say that can't be said too often, and I hope there will be many, many young people who will be willing to listen. [ 12 ]