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| Home | Picture Books | Traditional Literature | Poetry | Nonfiction | Historical Fiction | Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction | Author Study: Lois Ehlert

by Lois Lowry


Lowry, Lois. THE GIVER. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993. ISBN 0395645662.


At the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas is given his lifelong assignment, to be the Receiver of Memory for his community. Once he begins his training for this position of honor, he discovers the flaws in his seemingly Utopian society.


This haunting science fiction story is told from the perspective of Jonas, a boy on the verge of what is deemed to be adulthood in his community. As the story begins, Jonas recalls an event from the  previous  year, when a pilot-in-training broke the rules of the community. Jonas recalls how an unseen voice ordered everyone inside and their world came to a standstill until the issue was resolved. He remembers the event as frightening. From this small passage, Lois Lowry begins to share the setting for this book, somewhere in the future, where all decisions are made by a governing body of elders for the good of the community. As the story unfolds, Lowry continues to provide insight into this world. There is very little individuality; years of age are marked in a group ceremony each December. There is no free choice; family units are constructed by the community elders, even decisions as insignificant as wearing hair ribbons are dictated. In addition, Lowry’s choice of vocabulary and dialogue style further create the setting. Jonas refers to other children as male or female, not boys and girls. Houses are dwellings. It is all very formal and sterile, devoid of color or emotion.


Although his world is very different from ours, readers can still identify with Jonas. We see everything through his eyes, and we know his thoughts and fears. Like most children, he enjoys spending time with his friends; and he is apprehensive about the unknown, such as what his lifelong assignment will be. The other characters are more one-dimensional; but this is consistent with the world Lowry  has created, where there is a standard response for every situation and virtually no emotions exist. Without being privy to the thoughts of the other characters, we can learn very little about them.


Through Jonas’ experiences and observations, Lowry spends the first half of the book indoctrinating us in the rules that govern this society and building a world without pain, crime, disease, or even rudeness. Then, when Jonas learns that his lifelong assignment is to be the Receiver of Memories, she begins to reveal the flaws in this Eden-like existence. This first begins when Jonas reads the rules and instructions regarding his training. The final rule states that he may lie. This is very shocking for him, for lying is strictly forbidden in the community. This is when doubt first begins to take hold of Jonas. He realizes that others may have this same instruction, “You may lie.” His trust of others begins to falter.


As Receiver of Memory, Jonas’ time in training will be spent  receiving the memories of the whole world throughout history, with experiences that are vastly different from the world that he knows. During his training sessions we learn, along with Jonas, that his “perfect” world is devoid of color, emotion, or choice. It is also in these training sessions that Lowry asks us to suspend our disbelief, as the cumulative experiences of the world are physically transferred from the former Receiver, or The Giver.  We see Jonas’ elation when he experiences snow for the first time, and his courage and anguish as he experiences the pain and loss of war. The more he learns about history, the more he questions his own way of life. When he can no longer accept the horrors below the surface, he must act courageously to force his world to change.


Through this thought-provoking book, Lowry forces us to ask ourselves the same questions Jonas asks, and ultimately,  to affirm the importance of freedom and choice, and the power of love.  



Fantasy & Young Adult Fiction