Synopses & Reviews
Read by Ron Rifkin
4 hours, 48 minutes
December is the time of the annual Ceremony at which each twelve-year-old receives a life assignment determined by the Elders. Jonas watches his friend Fiona named Caretaker of the Old and his cheerful pal Asher labeled teh Assistant Director of Recreation. But Jonas has been chosen for somthing special. When his selection leads him to an unnamed man-the man called only the Giver-he begins to sense the dark secrets taht underlie the fragile perfection of his world.
About the Author
Ron Rifkin has appeared in the films Wolf and JFK, starred on Broadway in Arthur Miller's Broken Glass and has played recurring roles on television in the series The Trials of Rosie O'Neill and the award-winning drama series ER.
Reading Group Guide
1. In The Giver, each family has two parents, a son, and a daughter. The relationships are not biological but are developed through observation and a careful handling of personality. In our own society, the makeup of family is under discussion. How are families defined? Are families the foundations of a society, or are they continually open for new definitions?
2. In Jonass community, every person and his or her experience are precisely the same. The climate is controlled, and competition has been eliminated in favor of a community in which everyone works only for the common good. What advantages might “Sameness” yield for contemporary communities? Is the loss of diversity worthwhile?
3. Underneath the placid calm of Jonass society lies a very orderly and inexorable system of euthanasia, practiced on the very young who do not conform, the elderly, and those whose errors threaten the stability of the community. What are the disadvantages and benefits of a community that accepts such a vision of euthanasia?
4. Why is the relationship between Jonas and The Giver dangerous, and what does this danger suggest about the nature of love?
5. The ending of The Giver may be interpreted in two very different ways. Perhaps Jonas is remembering his Christmas memory-one of the most beautiful that The Giver transmitted to him-as he and Gabriel are freezing to death, falling into a dreamlike coma in the snow. Or perhaps Jonas does hear music and, with his special vision, is able to perceive the warm house where people are waiting to greet him. In her acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal, Lois Lowry mentioned both possibilities but would not choose one as correct. What evidence supports each interpretation?
6. There are groups in the United States today that actively seek to maintain an identity outside the mainstream culture: the Amish, the Mennonites, Native American tribes, and the Hasidic Jewish community. What benefits do these groups expect from defining themselves as “other”? What are the disadvantages? How does the mainstream culture put pressure on such groups?
7. Lois Lowry helps create an alternate world by having the community use words in a special way. Though that world stresses what it calls “precision of language,” in fact it is built upon language that is not precise but deliberately clouds meaning. What is the danger of such misleading language?
8. Examine the ways in which Jonass community uses euphemism to distance itself from the reality of “Release.” How does our own society use euphemism to distance us from such realities as aging and death, bodily functions, and political activities? What are the benefits and disadvantages of such uses of language?
Prepared by Gary D. Schmidt, Department of English, Calvin College
A CONVERSATION WITH LOIS LOWRY ABOUT THE GIVER
Q. When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
A. I cannot remember ever not wanting to be a writer.
Q. What inspired you to write The Giver?
A. Kids always ask what inspired me to write a particular book or how did I get an idea for a particular book, and often it’s very easy to answer that because books like the Anastasia books come from a specific thing; some little event triggers an idea. But a book like The Giver is a much more complicated book, and therefore it comes from much more complicated places—and many of them are probably things that I don’t even recognize myself anymore, if I ever did. So it’s not an easy question to answer.
I will say that the whole concept of memory is one that interests me a great deal. I’m not sure why that is, but I’ve always been fascinated by the thought of what memory is and what it does and how it works and what we learn from it. And so I think probably that interest of my own and that particular subject was the origin, one of many, of The Giver.
Q. How did you decide what Jonas should take on his journey?
A. Why does Jonas take what he does on his journey? He doesn’t have much time when he sets out. He originally plans to make the trip farther along in time, and he plans to prepare for it better. But then, because of circumstances, he has to set out in a very hasty fashion. So what he chooses is out of necessity. He takes food because he needs to survive. He takes the bicycle because he needs to hurry and the bike is faster than legs. And he takes the baby because he is going out to create a future. And babies always represent the future in the same way children represent the future to adults. And so Jonas takes the baby so the baby’s life will be saved, but he takes the baby also in order to begin again with a new life.
Q. When you wrote the ending, were you afraid some readers would want more details or did you want to leave the ending open to individual interpretation?
A. Many kids want a more specific ending to The Giver. Some write, or ask me when they see me, to spell it out exactly. And I don’t do that. And the reason is because The Giver is many things to many different people. People bring to it their own complicated beliefs and hopes and dreams and fears and all of that. So I don’t want to put my own feelings into it, my own beliefs, and ruin that for people who create their own endings in their minds.
Q. Is it an optimistic ending? Does Jonas survive?
A. I will say that I find it an optimistic ending. How could it not be an optimistic ending, a happy ending, when that house is there with its lights on and music is playing? So I’m always kind of surprised and disappointed when some people tell me that they think the boy and the baby just die. I don’t think they die. What form their new life takes is something I like people to figure out for themselves. And each person will give it a different ending. I think they’re out there somewhere and I think that their life has changed and their life is happy, and I would like to think that’s true for the people they left behind as well.
Q. In what way is your book Gathering Blue a companion to The Giver?
A. Gathering Blue postulates a world of the future, as The Giver does. I simply created a different kind of world, one that had regressed instead of leaping forward technologically as the world of The Giver has. It was fascinating to explore the savagery of such a world. I began to feel that maybe it coexisted with Jonas’s world . . . and that therefore Jonas could be a part of it in a tangential way. So there is a reference to a boy with light eyes at the end of Gathering Blue. He can be Jonas or not, as you wish.
From the Trade Paperback edition.