The Community {Book Club}

the community the giver

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On the drive home from the mall, my youngest son told me, “Mom, we’re the same because we’re both the second born in our family!” The boys are always looking for ways that we are alike. They wanted to know where their dad falls among his siblings. He’s the sixth. And my older son pointed out that there are 4 brothers and 8 sisters in that family.

“Why does Dad have so many sisters, and I don’t have any?” the youngest son asked.

“I guess God knew our family was just perfect with only boys,” his brother answered.

Before my second son was born, people would tell me, “Maybe it will be a girl, then you can be done having kids!” After my second son was born, those same people would ask if we were going to “try for a girl.” They didn’t understand why I didn’t want The Ideal Family.

In Kenya, people are surprised that we don’t want to have as many kids as physically possible. “Only two is enough?” It seems many (all?) cultures have a concept of the ideal family, and people expect that everyone aspires to that ideal.

In The Giver, Lois Lowry introduces a community far in the future. In the community, every family is the ideal family, or one perspective of that: father, mother, son, and daughter. Everyone has one of each.

In trying to make every aspect of their lives ideal, they have to eliminate differences. Science is not yet able to eliminate all differences, so they try to ignore what differences exist. “Always better, less rude, to talk about things that were the same.” While some parts of this life seem nice, on the whole it doesn’t appeal to me. Why does a perfect life sound so horrible? What must be given up for this kind of ease and comfort?

Life in the community is filled with rules and rituals – dream telling every morning, sharing feelings every evening, public apologies and acceptance, and the Ceremony. The Ceremony takes over Jonas’s thoughts in this section because he is approaching the final childhood Ceremony, as he is turning 12 this year.

A big mystery is called “release.” No one (apart from those who do the releasing) knows exactly what happens when someone is released from the community, yet all agree it is horrible, except for the very old because they are ready for it. Conditions for release are failure to thrive (in infants), old age, application/request for release, and failure to conform or comply with the standards of the community. Sometimes people just don’t fit in. Jonas wonders, “How could someone not fit in? The community was so meticulously ordered, the choices so carefully made.”

Another mystery is something that happens with Jonas. It affects him tremendously, to the point that he forgets about a rule and accidentally breaks it. While tossing an apple with his friend, the apple seemed to change in an inexplicable way, then it changed back. Jonas was so curious that he held on to the apple, though according to the rules he should have eaten it or left it. Did the apple really change? Is he just seeing things? He doesn’t know yet, so neither do we.

We chose The Giver for book club because I have heard it mentioned and recommended in Book Club surveys and interviews so many times. I’ve never read it, though! Lois Lowry won a Newberry Medal for this book, and the version I am reading includes her acceptance speech. She talked about bits of her own history that led to the creation of a dystopian world, including being a TCK in Japan in the 1940s.

One of the more striking memories she shared in the speech was her aging father talking about a daughter (Lois’s sister) who had died in childhood. “Then he comments, a little puzzled, but not at all sad, ‘I can’t remember exactly what happened to her.’ We can forget pain, I think. And it is comfortable to do so. But I also wonder briefly: is it safe to do that, to forget?” As we make our way through The Giver, we will find out what the community has had to forget in order to live without pain.

Join me in the comments! What draws you to the lifestyle of the community? What doesn’t appeal to you? What are you hoping Lowry clears up in the coming chapters?

The reading schedule:

July 16 – Chapters 7-12

July 23 – Chapters 13-18

July 30 – Chapters 19-23

Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

6 Comments

  1. Sarah Hilkemann July 10, 2019

    I think the order and predictability of the community would be comforting. Knowing what’s expected of you, having daily rhythms and routines, those all sound lovely. 🙂 But I get the feeling there’s a whole lot more under the surface that’s missing, that we will come to find out. Even though I enjoy routine, I also don’t like being made to do something so having to apologize all the time and in a set way would probably be frustrating!

    1. Missy July 14, 2019

      I was thinking this same thing. The order and predictability would be so nice. However, I would quickly miss spontaneity, and surprises. I love how the author write Jonas’ thoughts as though everything is good an he likes it this way, though we know that something big is coming and about to change. Great author!

      1. Rachel Kahindi July 14, 2019

        Yes! It is fascinating how much a believer in the community Jonas is.

    2. Rachel Kahindi July 14, 2019

      When life is very stressful, I definitely feel like it would be nice to live somewhere like this. Take away all the decisions that I have to make and life goes on. On the other hand, it seems a lot like a big prison.

  2. Michelle July 12, 2019

    I’ve just come home from receiving the body of my husband’s uncle in preparation for his burial tomorrow. I have to confess that I finished reading the section for this week during the speeches. The ceremony lasted 3.5 hours. We were up front at the start, but moved deep into the back of our tent when it started raining. My husband is Kenyan and I’m American. During our years of marriage we have had many discussions about the different ways community present. Our Kenyan and American communities both look so different, and yet there are core elements that are the same. Love, care, support, celebrations, someone to witness and do life with you.

    I’ve never read this book before. And don’t really know anything about the story. Part of me expects the release to be some sort of euthanasia. But another part of me wonders if there is a vibrant community thriving out there outside of the restrictions of the perfect little world. It’s been a while since I’ve joined book club. Life has been crazy. And I’m not 100% confident I’ll finish this book in time. But I’m going to try! After all we do have a 5-hour funeral to attend tomorrow! Maybe I’ll wind up in a back corner of a tent again.

  3. Rachel Kahindi July 14, 2019

    My fear also is that release means euthanasia. I keep hoping it’s something better.

    Sorry for your loss. (But I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who ends up reading during long ceremonies.)

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