As a 41 year old father of a toddler, I'm under no illusions that I am the intended audience for The Giver
. Still, I enjoyed this very well written and creative Newbery Award winner. My adult perspective kept lingering on the story's messages for parenting, my image of God, and the political life. The simple message? We cannot (and should not?) eliminate all suffering.The Giver
warns me not to overdo the protective parent thing. The story goes beyond "helicopter parenting" to "helicopter community" syndrome. What happens when parents and communities try to protect their own from every bad or inconvenient thing? You end up with a perpetual childhood/immaturity where decisions are made for you, passions deadened, and unpleasantness minimized. While reading, I was struck by how our civilization serves this protective function in near uncountable ways. Division of labor might mean that I never have to slaughter my own meat, go to war, live without heating and air conditioning, teach math to my own children, and care fully for aging parents. I have no intention of taking on most of these tasks, but Lowry does caution me to choose wisely the things I take on and give up in my life.The Giver
also challenges protective, father like images of God. In many ways, Lowry's Giver represents the Suffering Servant images from Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. The idea that Jesus fulfilled this scapegoat role - taking on human sin and suffering; absorbing divine wrath on the cross; conquering death through resurrection - plays a prominent role in the theologies of various Christian faith traditions. Then there's The Buddha's early life sequestered on palace grounds away from the suffering of people outside the walls. The Buddha's Noble Truths are all about suffering. Plenty of other examples exist. What does it say about us that our most deeply embedded traditions revolve around living with or reducing suffering? Whatever our personal thoughts on the desirability of "outsourcing" or eradicating human suffering, Lowry let's us know that trade offs and significant costs are involved. In other words, we should not take the decisions attached to suffering lightly.
Then there's the whole thing about notions of the common good. Can we preach of coming divine kingdoms and utopian societies to the detriment of certain individuals and groups? Hitler, Stalin, Inquisitions, Crusades, Al Qaida, Apartheid, and the Jim Crow U.S South have all claimed themselves necessary to defend the greater good against "infidels" of various stripes. The concept of "Release" in The Giver
is every bit as clinically terrifying as the gas chambers of Auschwitz and forced abortions in support of One Child policies. Lowry's "Release" shows the dangers associated with such trade offs. Does concern over potential starvation warrant exterminating seniors and "extra" babies? I say no way, but Malthus and One Childers might disagree. It's Lowry's depiction of debates on these types of trade offs that haunt me now, and would have frightened the hell out of me as a younger reader of The Giver
has some weaknesses. The ending feels rushed. The idea of community residents not being able to see colors is ridiculous, but effective within the confines of the story. And can feelings of love really be deadened by a pill designed to curb sexual appetites? I'm doubtful. Despite these flaws, I recommend The Giver
as a quick, intellectually stimulating read for adults and older children. Just don't spring this bad boy on your third grader, okay?