A Case for Individuality: The Giver

This reflective article was one of my earliest , published in my school magazine in 2016 dealing with Lois Lowery’s treatment of utopia in her book The Giver. Some of the arguments made here are dated , yet I think that it makes for good reading all the same.

My favourite books are not the ones with happy endings and imperfect worlds being perfected by a perfect hero, but those that disturb my mind and make me think. That is why I believe that fiction should either lift the readers to prodigal heights of bliss or to push them down into the deepest hell-hole of depression. Thus, I would like to write about The Giver by Lois Lowry which is just that .But, I would like
to convey to the readers that this is Not a Review. It is a Reflection.

The Giver by Lois Lowry is a ‘science fiction young adult novel’. But the book deals with themes which are relevant not only for kids but as well as for adults. Our hero, a 12 year old Jonas, lives in the most perfect world imaginable. It can easily be described by John Lennon’s Imagine:

Imagine there’s no countries,

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

No religion too.

John Lennon (Imagine)

This is Lennon’s perfect world. There is no greed, no hunger, no poverty, no war, no crime. — a literal heaven.In the community, which Jonas’ calls home, every person is judged and given a profession most suitable for him /her. But unlike the others, Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memory. It is the duty of the Receiver to act as the collective memory of The Community ,that is while other people do not possess the genetic memories of the generations gone by, the Receiver does. The old Receiver takes on a mentoral role slowly transferring memories into Jonas thus becoming the Giver

The turning point in the story is when Jonas, through his interactions with the  Giver comes to see through the illusion of the community. In order to follow, protect and promote the values of uniformity,  the community chooses to control climate, level hills and landscape the whole earth for their convenience.  They even choose not to hold on to memories, experience feelings and had chosen uniformity in the form of “sameness”, choosing to forget how to perceive colour. They even  suppress emotions. NO one is allowed to be angry. Puberty is controlled through pills. The people of the community are trained to be polite, no matter what their true feelings are. They even chose to forget extreme feelings like love and hate. One character even says, “Love is such a general term, Jonas. It is obsolete now!” (same idea on emotions)

Fredrich Hayek would be vindicated by the ends of the Sameness

The government gives them everything; they don’t have to make choices even on spouses. Children are born in laboratories under the control of genetic scientists and then given to parents. The people are obliged to do what is right in the eyes of the community because that is the only option. They are conditioned to believe that community’s ways are the only ways. Yet, in spite of all this, Jonas decides to make a choice and change the future of the community at the price of his own life. He decides to leave the Community, exposing the members to the memories they gave chose to forget.

Most of our elders keep on ranting about kids making wrong choices. They prefer that all choices except the right one be eliminated something the Community did .They chose to live in a world without choices, so that they would not choose wrong Thus, they chose to live in a world without love, colour, music, weather or beauty. They chose a uniform world; a utilitarian world; a perfect world.

But would we actually like to live in such a world? Disturbingly, many of us would. They would like the world to be a well-oiled machine, each individual an insignificant part. Even religious heads preach so.This can easily seen in the form of intolerance of diversity in our own country. Our leaders project patriotism as toeing the government’s line. Artists have always championed the cause of the individual. Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” is a criticism of the system that produces bricks to fill the wall (bricks are people).. In India, our writers, directors and artists are returning their awards demanding tolerance for diversity.

It is time we define ourselves in our own terms ,not by what somebody tell us. Jonas did so and  transcended his reality. The Giver is not a heart warming tale. It is in fact as cold as the snow that the Community chose not to feel. But it carries a warming. It asks us questions., It asks us to reflect on our society. The Giver is as relevant today as it was when it was written. Are we becoming more and more like the community, intolerant of diversity and individuality.  So the question is, will you heed this warning? That is your choice.

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Ms Mellanie Marquez Shibu for helping me write this out. Her efforts were essential in me writing today and I am deeply indebted to her.

Published by sathyajithsmanthanath

I am but a gadfly attached to the state

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