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One of my family’s favorite movies is Cool Runnings. It’s a fictionalized account of the first Jamaican bobsled team to compete in the Olympic Games. Junior is the wealthy team member. He’s young and inexperienced in the world, and he has a stereotypical overbearing father. Junior’s father has mapped out Junior’s whole life – exactly everything he needs to do to be successful like his old man. The plan does not include being in the Olympics. Junior’s father was a classic rags to riches via hard work story, and he believes his choices are the only way for Junior’s future.
Junior goes against his father’s wishes. His father discovers this and flies to Calgary to bring Junior home, but Junior finally tells his father that his choices aren’t best for Junior.
I see this dynamic in this week’s section of The Giver. Only, instead of son and father, we’re looking at current people and generations “back and back and back.”
There had to have been some kind of apocalypse in their distant past – all dystopian worlds have one. Finally, the Giver tells Jonas that centuries ago, overpopulation led to hunger, which led to starvation, which led to warfare. Every decision that was made in setting up and governing the community has been done to prevent that from happening again.
Initially, Jonas still believes that the way of the community is best. I loved the part when Jonas and the Giver were discussing how chaotic the world would be if people could make their own choices. At first, Jonas thought that choice was a good thing, better than the Sameness. The Giver suggested that, given the freedom to choose, people might make the wrong choice.
“Oh,” says Jonas, “I see what you mean…We don’t dare to let people make their own choices.”
Earlier, Jonas had experienced some pain in the form of sunburn, but in this section, the Giver gives Jonas memories of more intense pain. This is what the Chief Elder warned him about, even though she herself had no idea what pain is. Jonas begins to feel the isolation of being the Receiver.
“They have never known pain, he thought. The realization made him feel desperately lonely, and he rubbed his throbbing leg.”
For encouragement, after a memory of pain the Giver gives Jonas good memories. His favorite is a memory of love.
In The Four Loves, CS Lewis wrote:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
I don’t know whether Lois Lowry read CS Lewis, but the events in The Giver agree with him on this point. In the community, it seems the pills they take to eliminate “the stirrings” also neutralize every true emotion. They have given up everything beautiful, including love. Jonas’s mother described it as, “a very generalized word, so meaningless that it’s become almost obsolete.”
It’s easy to be critical of neutralizing love in order to create a world without pain. When I sit with this for a minute, however, I realize that this is a natural human response. After experiencing emotional pain, we withdraw. We are reluctant to be vulnerable again, even if it means that we won’t be able to experience love. In the midst of the pain, love doesn’t seem worth it.
So we try to have superficial relationships, holding each other at arm’s length – trying to avoid both loneliness and vulnerability to pain. And the community creates family units that have no real connection to each other, but share superficial feelings at dinner time each day.
Join me in the comments! What’s catching your attention in this part of the book? How far do you go to avoid pain? How do you respond to other people making choices for you?
P.S. Next week we will discuss the last part of the book: Chapters 19-23.
In August we’ll be reading Britt-Marie was Here! You’re in for a treat, as Book Club founder Amy Young is coming back to guest-lead this book for us!