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I first visited Kenya 11 years ago last month. My then-boyfriend/now-husband, Rodgers, was here for the summer between finishing his associate’s degree and transferring into a bachelor’s degree program in the US. I visited him, met his family, and experienced his culture for the first time.
As Rodgers was taking me to church that first Sunday in Kenya, he told me that his friend, William, had asked him what color dress I was packing to wear to church. William said that Rodgers should wear a shirt to match my dress, that way people could tell that we were together, kind of like a uniform. (He didn’t do it, though.)
Now we live here in Kenya. Uniforms are a big deal. Schools have uniforms, jobs have uniforms, and people even coordinate their clothes to attend weddings and funerals. In a culture with group identity (as opposed to individual identity) uniforms identify people as part of the group they belong to.
In the community of The Giver by Lois Lowry, everyone has a uniform, too. Everything about their lives is uniform, not just their clothes. When we left off last week, we were approaching the end of the Ceremony. Ones through Elevens had all been promoted. At certain ages, their hairstyle was changed, or their jackets or other aspects of their attire changed.
At the Ceremony of Twelve, the Chief Elder tells them “You Elevens have spent all your years till now learning to fit in, to standardize your behavior, to curb any impulse that might set you apart from the group. But today we honor your differences. They have determined your future.”
Thus the community solved one problem humans have always had – we want to be special, but we want to fit in. We want to be unique but we also need to be part of a group. They spend all their lives fitting in and being alike as much as possible, but they receive job assignments that fit them as individuals. They also acknowledge differences when they match up husbands and wives.
At the Ceremony of Twelve, Jonas was selected as the Receiver of Memories. And how uncomfortable everyone was when everything didn’t go as they expected! In a place that has done away with discomfort, of course the Chief Elder is obligated to apologize. And of course, her apology is accepted.
Things really started getting interesting for me when Jonas met the Giver. I want to know more about how they came to Sameness. What events caused them to go down this road? And how was it actually accomplished? How could the Giver tell that Jonas could “see beyond?” Jonas thinks it means that he saw the apple and the faces of the audience change in some way, but it seems to be more than that.
On that note, one mystery is solved for us: we know how the apple changed in the first part. Jonas is beginning to be able to see the color red, and soon he will be able to see all colors. The Giver says, “We relinquished color when we relinquished sunshine and did away with differences. We gained control of many things. But we had to let go of others.”
The way he talks about it, it seems that color itself was done away with, but it seems more likely that the ability to see color is what was taken away. The Giver talks about how Fiona’s red hair must drive the geneticists crazy because they can’t quite get everyone’s genes for hair exactly alike.
In this section, we also learn that not only does Jonas not know animals (which was in last week’s reading), he also doesn’t know weather, sunshine, hills, or any other features of a landscape. Not only are the people supposed to be the same in the community, but the environment has been engineered to be the same all over, all the time: optimized for growing and transporting food.
But why not have animals? Maybe it comes down to something else the Giver said, “It wasn’t a practical thing, so it became obsolete when we went to Sameness.”
Sameness can simplify our lives and make us efficient, but it also takes away so much. Life isn’t just about productivity, is it? How do you balance sameness and variety in your life? Do you lean more towards one than the other? Does your host culture celebrate differences, strive for Sameness, or a little bit of both?
Come on in to the comments and share your thoughts about this section, about Sameness, or whatever is catching your attention in The Giver.
P.S. The reading schedule:
July 23 – Chapters 13-18
July 30 – Chapters 19-23
Also plan to join us in August when we’ll be reading Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman!