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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