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The Giver is a 1993 soft science fiction novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a future society which is at first presented as a utopian society and gradually appears more and more dystopian; therefore, it could be considered anti-utopian. 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 which 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 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 Giver, he is confused in many ways. The giver is also able to break some rules, such as turning off the speaker and locking his door.As Jonas receives the memories from the previous receiver—the "Giver"—he discovers how shallow his community's life has become.

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 banned book lists and appeared on the American Library Association's list of the most challenged books of the 1990's. The novel forms a loose trilogy with Gathering Blue (2000) and Messenger (2004), two other books set in the same future era.

Plot summary

The book's setting seems to be a peaceful, utopian community, where all possible steps are taken to eliminate pain or confusion. The people are almost always compliant; family units share their dreams and feelings on a daily basis to diffuse emotional buildup.

This society 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. There is also a subtle theme of technology having only a minimal role in society; throughout the book, it is taken for granted that Jonas's community is without such technologies as television, or radio, although computers are mentioned at one point and there is a two-way microphone/speaker system used for announcements and surveillance, similar to the telescreens of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Transportation is mostly limited to bicycles; however, cars and airplanes exist in small numbers for the main use of transporting food, possibly from other communities.

Lowry describes creating the pain-free world of Jonas' Community in her Newbery Award speech:

As time progresses in the novel, however, it becomes clear that the society has lost contact with the ideas of family and love, at least in the "more complete" sense at which Lowry hints. Children are born to designated "Birthmothers" and then family units can apply for children. If the family unit applies for the maximum allowed number of two, it will always be 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 going to a communal housing facility for childless adults, and the children becoming involved in their work and starting monogenerational families of their own, forgetting their foster parents who are growing old. The community maintains this process using pills which suppress emotions, 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. 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.

The Community is run by a Council of Elders that assigns each 12-year-old the job he or she will perform for the rest of his or her life. People are bound by an extensive set of rules touching every aspect of life, which if violated would 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, 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, but still in a good place. Eventually, it is revealed to be a system of euthanasia through lethal injection, employed not only as punishment, but also to ensure a monotony of means by which death occurs.

The book is told from a third-person limited 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 judge), his father (a "Nurturer") and his seven (later becomes eight) year old sister. He is selected to be "Receiver of Memory", because of his unusual "Capacity to See-Beyond", which is an ability to do something unusual, such as see color, which the other people cannot. This is noted in the fact that Jonas has lighter colored eyes, which only a few people such as Jonas, The Giver and Gabriel have. The memories are images from the world as it existed before the time called Sameness, "back and back and back", things that no one else in Jonas's world remembers.

Through the Giver, who becomes his teacher and surrogate grandfather, 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. When he experiences "Stirrings", he is told to take pills to suppress his emotions; he does it reluctantly but realizes that he necessarily enjoys them, namely because he has developed feelings for his friend Fiona. 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 the smaller 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.

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 lose hope the most, as he no longer cares about himself, but for 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 hear music coming from some houses.

The ending is ambiguous, with Jonas depicted as experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. This leaves his and Gabriel's future unresolved. However, their survival is made apparent in Messenger, a sequel novel written much later.

Literary significance and criticism

The critical reception of Lowry's work has been polarized. On one hand, one finds critics like Anita Silvey, whose 100 Best Books for Children calls The Giver one of the 1990s' science fiction novels for children and young adults. A review in the Christian Science Monitor says, "Lowry's powerful book, simply and directly written, offers an inspiring defense of freedom. Both adventurous and skillfully plotted, this book is recommended for young readers 8 and up."

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". (Of course, the work's future setting means that this particular young adult book can only address "contemporary topics" in an allegorical fashion, a point which may raise questions of its own.) 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 side of the argument, and press to keep older works on the reading lists.

Lowry's novel has also found a home in "City Reads" programs, library-sponsored reading clubs on city-wide or larger scales. Waukesha County, Wisconsinmarker, Dane County, Wisconsinmarker and Milwaukee County, Wisconsinmarker chose to read The Giver, for example, as did Middletown, Connecticutmarker; Bloomington, Illinoismarker; Valparaiso, Indianamarker; Rochester, Minnesotamarker; Central Valley, New Yorkmarker; Centre County, Pennsylvaniamarker; Montgomery County, Marylandmarker and others.

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. And thinking". 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.".

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.

Awards and nominations

Lois Lowry has won several awards for her work on The Giver. Most notable are the following:


Oregon Children's Theatre (Portland, Oregon) premiered a stage adaptation of "The Giver" by Eric Coble in March 2006. Subsequent productions of Coble's one-hour script have been presented by The Coterie Theatre (Missouri), First Stage (Wisconsin), Nashville Children's Theatre (Tennessee), People's Light and Theatre (Pennsylvania), Theatre of Youth (Buffalo, New York), and Stages Repertory (Texas), and others throughout the U.S..

In the fall of 1994, actor Bill Cosby and his ASIS Productions film company established an agreement with Lancit Media Productions to adapt The Giver to film. In the years following, members of the partnership changed and the production team grew in size, but little motion was seen toward making the film. At one point, screenwriter Ed Neumeier was signed to create the screenplay. Later, Neumeier was replaced by Todd Alcott and Walden Media became the central production company.

An Internet Movie Database entry for The Giver appeared in late 2004, which claimed a release date in 2007. Currently, no actors have signed on the film, nor has a director been assigned. The Giver is currently in pre-production.

Actor Ron Rifkin read the text for the audio book edition.


  1. [1],"Suicide book challenged in schools," USA Today, 20 July 2001
  2. Anita Silvey, 100 Best Books for Children, page 147 (Houghton Mifflin, 2004). ISBN 0-618-27889-3.
  3. [2] Google Books view of original quote
  4. "A Monitor's Guide to Children's Bestsellers", Christian Science Monitor 24 September 1998 p. B12.
  5. Marie C. Franklin, "CHILDREN'S LITERATURE: Debate continues over merit of young-adult fare", Boston Globe 23 February 1997 p. G1.
  6. " 'One Book' Reading Promotion Projects", form the Library of Congress's Center for the Book
  7. Judith Rosen, "Many Cities, Many Picks", Publishers Weekly 10 March 2003 p. 19.
  8. Karen Ray, "Children's Books", New York Times 31 October 1993.
  9. [3], Debra Doyle, SFF Net, accessed July 1, 2008
  10. Natalie Babbitt, "The Hidden Cost of Contentment", Washington Post 9 May 1993, p. X15.
  11. William Allen White awards list, courtesy Emporia State University
  12. Article on the film adaptation
  13. "Jeff Bridges and Lancit Media to co-produce No. 1 best seller 'THE GIVER' as feature film", Entertainment Editors 28 September 1994.
  14. Ian Mohr, "Walden gives 'Giver' to Neumeier", Hollywood Reporter 10 July 2003.

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