When I was little tike I read the The Giver as a classroom assignment. During our designated reading time each boy and girl picked up their copy and we’d take turns reading paragraphs. Some got excited when they received a short paragraph. Others groaned when they received a long paragraph. Elementary school is tough.
That was over 20 years ago.
In the month of January I took some time to reread The Giver and the three companion books: Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son.
Lois Lowry is a gifted story teller. These stories are clear and concise. The storytelling allows for elementary students to read and enjoy but the themes underlying the storytelling resonate with me as an adult. More than that – the themes of this quartet resonate with me as a preacher.
Let’s take The Giver, which now has a recent film adaptation, for example.
Here’s is an incomplete and brief plot summary without spoilers:
The story is told from the point of view of Jonas, an eleven-year-old boy living in a futuristic society that has created equality by eliminating pain, fear, war, hatred, and things that make individuals unique. People look the same. People sound the same. Everyone is polite. This futuristic society has also eliminated choice: at age twelve every member of the community is assigned a job based on abilities and interests demonstrated over the first eleven years of life. Jonas, at the Ceremony of Twelve, is named The Receiver. He will one day become The Giver.
OK. Not too much and no spoilers.
Two major themes of the book are the power and importance of memory and the relationship between pleasure and pain.
In this futuristic society pain has been removed by removing memory. No one (minus The Giver) knows the pain of war because they don’t have the memories of war.
The story toys with the idea of the exchange between memories and true happiness. Can you enjoy peace if you don’t have a memory of war? Can you enjoy health if you don’t have a memory of sickness?
This theme is a playground for the mind of a preacher. Many of us want to erase memories of past pain, hurt, failure, and disappointment. If you were offered a pill that helped take away that memory (oops – a bit of a spoiler), would you take it?
Many of us would say “Yes! In a heartbeat!” The Giver forces us to answer “But at what cost?”
Relationship of Pleasure and Pain:
Closely related to the theme of memory is the relationship between pleasure and pain explored in The Giver. In this futuristic society void of pain and memory there is also the absence of love and the sting of death (among other things). Parents don’t love children they merely take care of them. People do not die they are merely “released.” As Jonas begins to receive memories from The Giver (ooops -mild spoiler), he begins to experience pain and hurt. Yet, he doesn’t mind because he gains feelings of love and feels the sting of death.
Again this theme is a playground for the mind of preacher. Many people ask the question: Why would a good and loving God allow __________. The Giver toys with the idea that the __________ is needed to truly appreciate and experience the things that make life worth living.
Yes. I admit it. This month I read four books designed for kids. But it was worth it.